clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Charlie Trotter Exhibit Uncovers the Man Behind the Menu

Rare photos and a 28-year-old menu draft are among the objects on display downtown.

Charlie Trotter's chef jacket
Charlie Trotter's chef jacket
Ashok Selvam
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

A draft of Charlie Trotter's menu, favorite books and chef jacket are among the artifacts showcased at a downtown exhibit inside the City Gallery in the Historic Water Tower. "Charlie Trotter: Chef, Artist, Thinker" will run for three months and offers a glimpse of the late chef's life, his philanthropy and friendships.

Trotter's wife, Rochelle Trotter, sorted through the chef's belongings for the displays. Trotter died in November 2013, and the exhibit's walls are covered with pictures by Kipling Swehla of the food prepared at his restaurant. There also other rare photos, including one with Trotter and Julia Child.

"It was a matter of me remembering the stories that came with different things and putting them together, trying not to just tell the story of the restaurant — because that's been told over and over before — but to tell people a little bit about Charles, the man behind that big name," Rochelle Trotter said.

A menu draft from 1987 for his Lincoln Park restaurant includes hand-written notes from Trotter. He commented about the menu prices, as the highest-priced item was $16 for striped bass. That was too much for Trotter: "Prices all the way through are not accurate...I see about a $35 check average," he wrote. Trotter never imagined how his restaurant would evolve, his wife said, and that included the steep prices. Rochelle Trotter also said her husband wrote a lot of love notes, but those aren't in the exhibit.

A framed photo of Trotter with Emeril Lagasse and Norman Van Aken is also notable. The trio of close friends called themselves "The Triangle," and the frame is shaped like one. Digging up the artifacts provided therapy for Rochelle Trotter, as the displays include her husband's favorite books and jazz records. Trotter was named after Charlie Parker and he listened to Parker, Miles Davis and others: "I would be lying if I didn't say selfishly doing something like this continues to keep him alive in a very real space in my life," Rochelle Trotter said.

The free exhibit is presented by the Charlie Trotter Culinary Education Foundation and the City of Chicago. It's open daily from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and on holidays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

City Gallery in the Historic Water Tower

803 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611 (312) 742-0808