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Four Years Later, Charlie Trotter’s Legacy Lives on in Chicago

Chicago’s restaurants still benefit from his innovation

The Launch Of The Turbochef Speedcook Oven
The late Charlie Trotter at a 2007 promotional event in New York.
Photo by Rob Loud/Getty Images
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.

It’s been almost four years since Charlie Trotter died, and his marquee Lincoln Park restaurant would have turned 30 years old this year. Trotter never saw Chicago host a James Beard Foundation Awards, something that further cemented the city’s reputation as a culinary powerhouse. That reputation was furthered today as Bon Appetit just named the Chicago its 2017 Restaurant City of the Year.

Chicago examined Trotter’s legacy, breaking down how he’s impacted Chicago’s dining scene. They interviewed Trotter alums Matthias Merges (Old Irving Brewing, A10), John Shields (Smyth, The Loyalist), and Bill Kim (BellyQ, Urban Belly). Here’s a few highlights of the Chicago article, which is worth a full read:

  • Trotter was among the first to bring Southeast Asian ingredients to Chicago’s Eurocentric fine-dining scene. Ginger-scallions pancakes and Asian-inspired scallops popped up on the menu in the 1980s faster than critics could write “fusion.”
  • Kim had to roam the restaurant with two Zack Morris-like large cordless phones to keep in touch with seafood purveyors to ensure they could get what the restaurant needed fast.
  • In 1995, the city’s health department threatened Trotter’s because they were weary from hygienic concerns regarding the new kitchen table where patrons would watch the cooks make their food. Trotter threatened to leave town and the officials backed down.
  • Shields and others talked about Trotter’s fiery demeanor and sometimes poor treatment of employees. One episode had Trotter angry about a small price tag sticker stuck on the bottom of a plant pot. Now, years later, Shields runs his own restaurant. He said he’s come around a bit toward understanding Trotter’s way of thinking.


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