In the wake of Charlie Trotter's passing, publications far and wide are weighing in on the legacy and their memories of the deceased chef.
The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board declares that "Charlie Trotter did nothing less than help to build and sustain Chicago as a world-class city. We celebrate his profound accomplishments." The board commemorates Trotter's widespread positive impact and remembers Chicago's devastation when the restaurant closed: "Fans flocked to it for one last meal—as though the Art Institute or the Jazz Showcase or the Sears Tower were about to disappear." Aside from the chef's skill, passion and artistry in the kitchen, The Trib writes that it's institutions like Charlie Trotter's that make Chicago a destination for the world and "give Chicagoans immense pride in knowing they live in a special place." [Tribune]
New York Times reporter William Grimes credits Trotter with making Chicago "a must." Grimes writes, "In the blink of an eye, the city's lagging restaurant culture, dominated by tired, old-line French restaurants, took a giant step into the future." Although they mention how Trotter was ranked among the city's meanest people by Chicago Magazine—and actually annoyed that he did not come in first—the Times says there's no denying that Trotter "helped establish Chicago as a serious dining city." [New York Times]
Tribune columnist Phil Vettel speaks to Trotter's passion, perfectionism, and personal investment in his restaurant. According to Vettel, Trotter "refurbished the sidewalk in front of his restaurant at his own expense, believing the city would never make it as nice as he wanted it to be. He viewed his side projects—the cookbooks, the television work, the private events—as opportunities to put more money into the restaurant." Vettel highlights how Trotter was a "fanatic about sourcing," always looking to serve the top products and introduce rare ingredients to his guests. "Some of the practices he established at his restaurant are so commonplace today it's easy to forget they were once innovations." [Tribune]
Regardless of the true cause of Trotter's death, Chicago Magazine's Jeff Ruby explores what he says is a "Shakespearean arc" to the famous chef's life: "A tragic story about an unconventional man." He recaps Trotter's rise to fame, his "meteoric success," then the transition into "a dinosaur that didn't realize he was extinct," and finally his forced exit from the spotlight. Ruby concludes, "More details will come out in the following weeks, and perhaps we will learn that Trotter's death is not shadowy, but rather a simple cardiac arrest following years of working harder than any human should. But it's much more Shakespearean to imagine that the same mysterious edge that made Charlie Trotter a genius also ended up killing him." [Reader]
Former Time Out Chicago restaurants and bars editor David Tamarkin gives a more personal account of his encounters with Charlie Trotter. He remarks that he saw more than "Charlie Trotter, tyrannical genius" when they met at a photoshoot and the simple question, "You like pinball?" caught Trotter off guard but "he did not make himself vulnerable to me." Years later, Trotter hired a friend of Tamarkin's who had no fine dining experience, and also unexpectedly responded to an interview request for a freelance story Tamarkin was writing. "I thought I saw Charlie's armor start to come down. I don't know if I ever really pegged Charlie correctly. But, God, I hope that's the moment I got it right." [Time Out Chicago]
Chicago Reader links back to a Grub Street interview with Northwestern sociology professor, Dr. Gary Fine in 2012. In the two-part story, Dr. Fine first gives Trotter a break, saying, "If one claims that Charlie Trotter was a hard-taskmaster, they know nothing about the kitchens of haute cuisine establishments." Dr. Fine goes into the details of Trotter's revolutionary genius, saying, "Rather than combining odd ingredients for the sake of combining (a weakness of early innovations, similar to the weaknesses of early molecular cuisine), Charlie Trotter took the essential step of deciding what flavors would actually go together to produce a harmonious, but novel combination of flavor and texture." The interview concludes with Dr. Fine acknowledging that "the reputation of Trotter's was, in time, surpassed," but that he himself cannot "suggest that there is a second restaurant in Chicago that is consistently grander than Trotter's." [Reader]
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Eater Chicago intern Janna Kaplan contributed to this story.