After the candlelight vigil the day Charlie Trotter died, Homaro Cantu stood inside Lincoln Park bar The Store and pitched an idea to other Charlie Trotter's chef alumni: Let's buy the restaurant and make it Chicago's version of the James Beard House. Roughly seven months later, although he hasn't purchased the restaurant, he announces The Trotter Project, a nonprofit based there that he says will educate and give back to the community, revolutionize restaurant rating systems, pay homage to Trotter, and lift Chicago's restaurant community to new heights.
"Some alums came together and said, 'hey, we should do something with these buildings,'" Cantu, owner of Moto and the upcoming Berrista, says. "It's time Chicago did something huge."
What the project intends to do is house all those initiatives under one roof and carry on the Charlie Trotter legacy. The Trotter Project plans to add an indoor farm to the vacant restaurant in order to work with churches, schools, and grocery stores to address food deserts and provide nutritional information for local children.
Cantu plans to launch a restaurant rating and review system that he says will "tap into the true experience somebody has at a restaurant," calling it "the first of its kind." Basically, the idea is to get customer input in a vacuum by asking random diners at the beginning of the meal to answer set questions shortly after their meal via text message, when they will be prohibited from reading the other answers on the site until after their submission. These scores will be taken equally from all types of restaurants and tallied up at the end of the year to find the highest-rated in different price categories, which he hopes to invite in to cook at special events at the end of the year before resetting it for the next year. There is no set timetable for launching the ratings system.
The funds gathered by the project will go towards renovating restaurant spaces, funding its indoor farming initiative, supporting its technology and ratings system, and the kids educational program. "We're going to need to do some serious fundraising," Cantu says.
Those involved in the project mostly include Trotter's chef alumni and others from the restaurant community, according to Cantu, and the Trotter family is "in a supporting role on the side."
The first Trotter Project event is set for Sept. 4, when it will host "Savor," the Windy City Wine Festival opening fundraiser with the Grant Park Conservatory at Buckingham Fountain.
· The Trotter Project [Official Site]
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