Renowned Chicago Chef Charlie Trotter Dead at 54: "He Strove for Perfection," Says Valley Tastemaker Christopher Gross

Categories: Restaurant News

Charlie Trotter's
Famed Chicago chef Charlie Trotter was found dead in his apartment this morning.
The culinary world lost one of its titans today when famed chef Charlie Trotter, whose eponymous Chicago restaurant was regarded as one of the country's finest, was found dead in his apartment.

Trotter was 54 years old.

A self-taught chef, Trotter opened his Armitage Avenue restaurant, Charlie Trotter's, in 1987. His creative passion and drive quickly earned him a reputation as one of the country's (and world's) culinary leaders. In 1999, he was given the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Chef. One year later, Wine Spectator magazine named Charlie Trotter's the best restaurant in the country.

The news of Trotter's death shocked many in the food world, including Valley tastemaker Christopher Gross, chef and owner of Christopher's and Crush Lounge, who cooked with Trotter on several occasions, both at Charlie Trotter's and at various culinary events throughout the country.

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"I first met him at a cooking event around 1997," Gross tells me. "He was an up-and-coming chef then, a super-nice guy -- a little intense. We talked a lot about foie gras."

Gross goes on to say that when he visited the famed chef's Chicago restaurant for an event, Trotter was on top of every single detail and extremely precise with how he wanted things done.

"If a sauce was off -- if a server picked up the plate at angle -- it went into the trash."

One of Gross' more humorous memories of Trotter was when he went out to eat with him.

"I knew he was a gymnast of sorts, so I asked if he was still fit. He got up from his chair and started walking on his hands in the middle of the dining room."

Gross adds that Trotter was also fanatical about learning new things, researching and seeking out new techniques, flavor combinations, and ingredients that he could incorporate into his cuisine. When he put out his first cookbook, Gross says, Trotter told him he got to do something that only happens in the movies.

"He told me he was at the printer's and didn't like the way something looked so he shouted, 'Stop the presses!'"

Gross says he always had fun with Trotter and especially enjoyed cooking in Charlie Trotter's "wonderful kitchen."

"He was intense, a little eccentric maybe, but he strove for perfection. He'll be missed."

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I'll never forget the experience of meeting Chef Trotter while working as a waiter at Christopher's Bistro in the early '90's. Trotter was one of several guest chefs joining Chef Gross in preparing a special event dinner. During pre-service instructions, while every other chef described the dish they were presenting in fairly easy-to-understand Epicurean English, Chef Trotter started in by informing us that his contribution to the proceedings would be "an exercise in Axis Venison." He then went on to describe all the arrangements on the plate to an almost molecular level. After he finished, all we working stiffs huddled around the table stood staring at each other like we'd just encountered a foodie from another planet. It was borderline mind-boggling.

I'd worked in fine dining for about a half-a-dozen years at that point, and went on to work about twenty more afterward. Never before or since have I heard a chef (and I've worked for a few of the very best), characterize a creation as "an exercise." I think it says something about how Chef Trotter felt about his dedication to a career in food. May God rest his soul. 

Jon Lane
Jon Lane

wow that stinks! He just closed his restaurant a few months back also, sad!

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