Carrie Nahabedian liked Charlie Trotter's hands. And it was from this that the now-acclaimed chef, who is about to shutter his world-renowned namesake restaurant after 25 years, got his start and it's being chronicled in a three-part series in the Tribune, starting today.
Trotter was working with Nahabedian and chef Norman Van Aken at Sinclair's in Lake Forest as a busboy and wanted to move into the kitchen. Because he had good hands, but not any experience cooking, Nahabedian still had a good feeling about Trotter having innate talent and urged Van Aken to give him a shot. And so it began.
It's stories like this, though not all positive, that are being told by Tribune staffer Mark Caro. The lengthy first part jumps right in showing Trotter's gruff and aggressive side, teaching a young Graham Elliot Bowles a lesson through intimidation and seeming harassment. But looking back now, Elliot laughs it off and acknowledges the lesson, even though his co-workers at the time, acclaimed chefs like Giuseppe Tentori, Matthias Merges and Homaro Cantu, remember the fear in Elliot's eyes.
"Charlie walks into the kitchen and he goes up to Graham Elliot, and he puts his hands around [Elliot's] neck," Cantu said, "and he's like, 'Don't you know that I will (expletive) kill you right now?'" Yikes.
In the coming days, Caro recounts Trotter's beginnings as a low-level kitchen worker wanting to absorb everything he could about culinary life—even traveling to Europe to gain inspiration for what would become the iconic restaurant the bears his name. Caro talks with numerous friends and former staffers, Trotter's mother and even Trotter himself to highlight the impact—both positive and negative, humorous and intense—that Trotter had on the culinary world.
For the most part, this piece so far shows more of Trotter's early history and how he got his start, but based on the claws coming out to kick off the article, things could get a lot more interesting in parts two and three. Let's hope it does.
· Charlie Trotter Preaches Excellence to the Extreme [Tribune]
Charlie Trotter [Photo: The Inquisitir]