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Charlie Trotter Dead at 54

Charlie Trotter Dead at 54



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The famed Chicago chef was found unresponsive at home

The famous Chicago chef has died, NBC Chicago reports.

Renowned Chicago chef Charlie Trotter, who may have introduced the tasting menu to America and revolutionized the dining scene, has passed away, NBC Chicago reports.

According to reports, Trotter was found unresponsive at his Chicago residence and taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Trotter was 54.

The chef had closed his famous namesake restaurant after 25 years last August, with plans to return to graduate school to study philosophy and political theory. A future restaurant was discussed, and Trotter's To Go was slated to stay open, but the smaller restaurant was eventually shuttered as well.

Little has been reported about the circumstances of Trotter's death; rumors that Trotter had a brain tumor have been circulating, but have not been confirmed. The food world, in the meantime, has been mourning the chef's passing, especially chefs who worked under Trotter, including moto's Homaro Cantu and Graham Elliot. Plenty of notable chefs have come out of Trotter's kitchen, including Grant Achatz, Giuseppe Tentori, and Mindy Segal. Elliot tells the Tribune, "I just can’t put into words how saddened I am by all of this. It’s a huge loss, not just personally, but for the culinary world."


Chef Charlie Trotter dead at 54

Famed Chicago Chef Charlie Trotter has died, according to the Chicago Fire Department.

Officials say Trotter was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in critical condition Tuesday morning.

The 54-year old later died at the hospital.

We’re also learning that police are expecting to stage a death investigation at Trotter’s house.

Trotter was one of the first so-called celebrity chefs in Chicago, opening his self-titled restaurant in Lincoln Park in 1987.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued the following statement following news of Trotter’s death:

“Charlie Trotter changed Chicago’s restaurant scene forever and played a leading role in elevating the city to the culinary capital it is today. Charlie’s personality mirrored his cooking – bold, inventive and always memorable. Charlie Trotter will be remembered for serving the finest food and his generous philanthropy, and he will always have a seat at the table among Chicago’s legendary figures.”

Celebrity chefs took to Twitter to express their condolences:

CHARLIE TROTTER: chef, mentor, trailblazer, philosopher, artist, teacher, leader. He now belongs to the ages.

&mdash GRAHAM ELLIOT (@grahamelliot) November 5, 2013

God bless Chef Charlie Trotter's family.Chicago and America lost a bright lightXOArt and Jesus

&mdash Chef Art Smith (@ChefArtSmith) November 5, 2013

Sorry to hear of the passing of Chef Charlie Trotter. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.

&mdash Tom Colicchio (@tomcolicchio) November 5, 2013


Chicago chef Charlie Trotter dead at age 54

Famed Chicago Chef Charlie Trotter died today at the age of 54.

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Chicago chef Charlie Trotter dead at 54

Renowned Chicago chef Charlie Trotter has died aged 54. Credit: AP

The chef was found unconscious by his son Dylan yesterday morning at their Chicago home and was pronounced dead at 11.48am at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

According to the Chicago Tribune, an autopsy is scheduled to take place today but a source said there was no indication of foul play.

The Tribune reports that as a result of his medical condition, Trotter was told by doctors that he should not be flying because of the pressure on his brain.

“We are incredibly shocked and deeply saddened by the unexpected loss of Charlie at our home in Lincoln Park.

/>The interior of Trotter’s eponymous restaurant

“He was much loved, and words cannot describe how much he will be missed,” his wife Rochelle said in a statement released last night.

“Charlie was a trailblazer and introduced people to a new way of dining when he opened Charlie Trotter’s.

“His impact upon American cuisine and the culinary world at large will always be remembered. We thank you for your kind words, love and support,” she added.

The self-taught chef fell in love with cooking while working in a restaurant during college.

With little culinary training, he began working in various restaurants full-time age 23, opening his eponymous Charlie Trotter’s just four years later.

“Charlie was a father figure to me when it came to not just cooking, but life, and seeing things in a different way,” said chef Graham Elliot Bowles, who worked for Trotter.

“I can’t put into words how saddened I am. It’s a huge loss, both personally and for the culinary world,” he added.

The chef in his wine cellar at Charlie Trotter’s before the restaurant closed

Matthias Merges, who worked with Trotter as executive chef for 14 years, said: “I don’t think you can write a sadder story.

“What he’s accomplished has been the game changer for the landscape of American cuisine.”

It’s easy to forget what a pioneer Trotter was, especially in the Midwest.

He was among the first to popularise tasting menus and was an early advocate for cooking with fresh, seasonal ingredients, offering vegetarian menus and even a raw menu for guests.

“I think I can attribute the majority of my attention to detail and awareness of what it takes to run a fine dining restaurant to him,” said LA-based chef David LeFevre, who worked for Trotter for a decade.

In 1997, Trotter made a cameo appearance as an angry chef in My Best Friend’s Wedding, starring Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz.

Unafraid of controversy, in 2002 Trotter took foie gras off his menu, but when the Chicago city council later passed a ban, he spoke out against it, arguing it wasn’t a politician’s job to legislate eating habits.

Trotter has also been a consistent champion for wine service, hiring and nurturing some of the top sommeliers in the industry and creating the Charlie Trotter Education Foundation to provide scholarships for culinary students.

Last year, he received the James Beard Foundation’s Humanitarian of the Year award.

Wine played an important role at Charlie Trotter’s, with a 1,800-stong wine list, built on a cellar of more than 4,000 bottles, offering both the benchmark fine wines and smart buys.

On New Year’s Eve last year, Trotter announced to diners that he was to close the restaurant after 25 years of service, with the last service taking place in August.

Having closed the restaurant, last November Trotter auctioned off his million-dollar cellar at Christie’s in New York.

The sale featured offerings from the world’s premier wine regions, including Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, California, Tuscany and Piedmont.

Earlier this year, Trotter was sued by brothers Bekim and Ilir Frrokaj for allegedly selling them a magnum of fake Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 1945 for £30,000 last June.

Trotter denied the allegations, citing “buyer’s remorse” as the reason for the court case.


Influential Chef Charlie Trotter Dead at 54 His Chicago Restaurant Was Hot Spot for Decades

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Charlie Trotter, the chef whose eponymous restaurant began a new and inventive era in American cuisine, has died. Trotter was 54, and had closed his restaurant in 2012 after 25 years of much success, and almost as much controversy and conflict. He said that he decided to close the restaurant so he could attend graduate school and study philosophy. He was reportedly found unconscious by his son on Tuesday morning in a Chicago residence.

Trotter was mentor to many cooks and chefs who went on to their own fame, including Grant Achatz, of Next and Alinea, and Graham Elliot. He was also known to have a volcanic temper, and many tales of his tantrums and yelling have been passed back and forth in restaurant kitchens around the nation through the years.

"In the Mount Rushmore of Chicago, his face would probably be up there: Michael Jordan, Al Capone, Charlie Trotter, Mayor Daley -- and they'd all be scowling," Jeff Ruby, who recently left the fulltime position that he held for 16 years as Chicago magazine's main restaurant critic, said of Trotter in The New York Times around the time the restaurant was closing. In the several years leading up to the shuttering of Charlie Trotter's, there was much talk about the chef not being able to keep up with his younger industry colleagues, and though the tables at the restaurant were always booked, some critics had begun talking about the food in less than laudatory tones.

Trotter was active in the fundraising world, and helped foundations and charities raise millions of dollars to benefit the needy. He and his staff were also known to select a homeless person at random off the street once a week and invite him or her to the restaurant for a free lunch.

"We put their carts in the garage," Trotter told the Times in 2012. "We make sure they wash their hands. We sit them down at the kitchen table. We give them an eight-course meal."

Underbelly's Chris Shepherd said news of Trotter's death shocked him. "He was a great influence on me when I was starting culinary school I bought all of his books as soon as they came out," Shepherd said. "They are here at the restaurant on our shelves."

"He was a very important and inspirational person and chef," said Michael Gaspard, a Houston chef who once worked in Chicago. "Not only to us in Chicago, but to the entire national food community. As a chef, restaurateur, leader and mentor, he will be greatly missed."

Trotter, who amassed ten James Beard awards, created the Charlie Trotter Education Foundation to provide scholarships for culinary students. He received the James Beard Foundation's Humanitarian of the Year award in 2012.

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Charlie Trotter, famed Chicago chef, found dead in home

Charlie Trotter, whose eponymous Chicago restaurant was considered one of the finest in the world, has died.

The 54-year-old chef was found unconscious and not breathing in his Lincoln Park home this morning and was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Trotter was found by his son Dylan at the home in the 1800 block of North Dayton Street and an ambulance was called at 10:45 a.m., according to a family friend and fire officials.

"My baby's gone," Trotter's wife Rochelle told the friend, Carrie Nahabedian.

In a statement released Tuesday night, Rochelle Trotter said: "We are incredibly shocked and deeply saddened by the unexpected loss of Charlie at our home in Lincoln Park. He was much loved, and words can not describe how much he will be missed.

"Charlie was a trailblazer and introduced people to a new way of dining when he opened Charlie Trotter's. His impact upon American cuisine and the culinary world at large will always be remembered."

"We thank you so much for your kind words, love and support," she added. "We appreciate the respect for our privacy as we work through this difficult time. Details for the memorial service will be forthcoming."

Steve Kolinski, a neighbor who lives several houses down, said he came outside late this morning and saw six police cars and an ambulance pulled up at Trotter’s home. Kolinski then saw Trotter’s wife, who ran outside and was “yelling hysterically.’’

Trotter was wheeled out on a stretcher and taken away, he said. Trotter's wife and son then left.

Trotter was pronounced dead at 11:48 a.m. at Northwestern. An autopsy is scheduled for Wednesday, but a source said there was no preliminary indications of foul play.

Trotter burst on the scene in 1987, when the self-taught chef opened Charlie Trotter's restaurant on Armitage Avenue. In short order, the chef's intense creativity and never-repeat-a-dish dictum made Trotter's the most talked-about restaurant in Chicago, and his fame quickly spread throughout the country and beyond.

He was named the country's Outstanding Chef by James Beard Foundation in 1999 in 2000, Wine Spectator magazine called Trotter's the best restaurant in the nation. More awards and accolades followed, including a 2002 Beard Award for Outstanding Service at the time, Trotter called it the award he was most proud to receive, as it represented "a team award."

The mercurial chef was a stern taskmaster who demanded the absolute best from everyone who worked for him. He was also a man of uncommon generosity, creating the Charlie Trotter Education Foundation to provide scholarships for culinary students. He received the James Beard Foundation's Humanitarian of the Year award in 2012.

Master Sommelier Larry Stone who served as Trotter's Sommelier in the late 80s and early 90s returned to work with him last year to close up his restaurant.

"He was a great inspiration in my life and a fantastic partner," said Stone.

Stone, who is now with the Quintessa Winery in Napa Valley, said Trotter and his family were aware that Trotter had a brain aneurysm and Trotter told Stone that he was resigned to it.

"It was a time bomb and he felt that he didn't have a lot of time left. It was inoperable and it was not something that could be repaired, it was deep inside the brain," Stone said.

As a result of his medical condition he was told by doctors that he should not be flying, should not be in high altitudes and should not exert himself because of the pressure on his brain. A friend of the family said he spoke at the Jackson Hole Culinary Conference Sunday night.

"I think that's why he had to give up the restaurant ultimately, he realized he had to change a few things in his life," said Stone. "He loved the craft so much he didn't want to give it up, it was so very hard for him to give up."

Stone believes that he may have been misunderstood because Trotter was not the type of person to ask for sympathy. He said a number of years ago he went to the Mayo Clinic after he was first having dizzy spells and had collapsed.

"It was obvious he had problems and he had some seizures," Stone said. "It's a condition that had worsened in the last few years but it was something he had for quite a while."

Stone said Trotter didn't let his health get into his way.

"He said, 'When your time comes, it comes.' He didn't dwell on it. I don't think it made him very happy to know that he had a condition that would incapacitate him in some way," said Stone. "He realized there was not much you could do. He never wanted anything to interfere with his craft. He was driven by his love of what he did and a desire to be better and better at it. That's what drove him from the very beginning."

"Charlie was an extreme father figure to me when it came to not just cooking, but life, and seeing things in a different way," said chef Graham Elliot Bowles, one of many famous chefs who worked for Trotter. "I just can't put into words how saddened I am by all of this. It's a huge loss, not just personally, but for the culinary world."

The news shocked many in the restaurant world, including L.A. chef David LeFevre, owner at MB Post and Fishing With Dynamite in Manhattan Beach, who worked for Trotter for 10 years, dating back to his externship from the Culinary Institute of America.

"He's probably the most important guy in my career," LeFevre told the Los Angeles Times while waiting to board a flight from Chicago to Los Angeles after a brief vacation. "It's funny because I've been talking a lot about Charlie this weekend because I was back in Chicago and seeing friends from that period.

"I think I can attribute the majority of my attention to detail and the majority of my awareness of what it takes to run a fine dining restaurant to him. He had a very acute sense of attention to detail and he saw things that most people didn't see. All of us who worked for him are better chefs because we came out of that kitchen.

"He may not have been the best people person sometimes when he was trying to achieve a very difficult goal, but there's no arguing that he made us all better chefs.

"I've spoken with 10 or 12 people this morning who worked with him and every one is very sad about this. Those of us who got to spend a lot of time with him knew a very caring side of him that not everyone could see."

Sari Zernich Worsham, who worked closely with Trotter for 13 years in his kitchen and on his books and PBS series, said she and other Trotter alumni are organizing a candlelight vigil in front of the restaurant buildings at 4:30 p.m. for anyone who would like to come.

"I just feel like we should do something immediately," said Worsham, now executive director of chef Art Smith's company.

"Charlie always called me his little sister, and I feel like I just lost my big brother," she said. "I'm just speechless. He's welded and sculpted so many people's lives and sent them on the path to success. I can't thank him enough."

"I don't think you can write a sadder story," said Yusho chef Matthias Merges, a 14-year veteran of Trotter's kitchen as chef de cuisine, executive chef and director of operations. "I don't think it's even possible."

Merges emphasized that Trotter should be remembered for his incredible influence and success. "What he's accomplished has been the game changer for the landscape of American cuisine, and we can never discount that no matter what happens," Merges said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel released a statement saying Trotter "changed Chicago's restaurant scene forever and played a leading role in elevating the city to the culinary capital it is today. . . He will always have a seat at the table among Chicago's legendary figures."

A neighbor, Bunny Snyder, who lives across the street, remembered Trotter fondly, saying he was known as "Chef'' to those in the close-knit neighborhood.

"He was terrific on the street,'' Snyder said, adding that he would usually attend their summer block party and she would often see him walking a dog.

"He used to partake in our street fair every year and put out a table,'' Snyder said. "He was a good neighbor."

Lauren Marks, who has lived on the street for some 30 years, said that she used to see Trotter fairly regularly when he would walk his dogs, but said he had been "rather reclusive lately."

"It's a sad thing, it's shocking," said Marks, who said she saw the emergency vehicles gathered outside this morning and knew something was wrong. "With Charlie you never knew what was going to happen on any given day. He was an interesting man."

Tom Aries, another neighbor whose child went to school with Trotter's son, called the news "astonishing."

"He was a phenomenal chef," said Aries, who said that he got to be chef for a day in Trotter's restaurant, and that he ran a very efficient operation.

Another woman who walked by Trotter's home said that she used to work for Trotter at his restaurant — where she had also met her husband.

"Charlie was a very sweet man to me all my years working there and treated me like a daughter," said the woman, wiping tears from her eyes. She declined to give her name because of the controversy that has surrounded Trotter's interactions with previous employees.

Trotter, who grew up in Chicago's north suburbs, was a political science major at the University of Wisconsin at Madison before switching tracks and beginning his culinary training at Sinclair's in Lake Forest.

Days before he turned 28, Trotter opened his own restaurant in a two-story North Side townhouse he spent about a year restoring.

"I worked in various kitchens from two days to five months," Trotter told the Tribune in 1987, just after the restaurant opened. "I would leave when I wasn't learning anything. I gradually began to conceive of the sort of place I would like to have and the style of cooking I felt comfortable with."

As a young chef learning his trade and bouncing from kitchen to kitchen, he earned the respect of his mentors.

"He's a marathon man," said Norman Van Aken, who in 1987 was a chef on Key West. "He's been with me in three different restaurants and in every one his spirit and persistence has lifted morale. I've never seen such drive, single-minded vision and generosity."

Trotter's restaurant, greeted by positive reviews, continued growing in stature. In 1997, just a decade after opening, a Tribune critic called the restaurant "one of the city's treasures" and said Trotter was "as experimental as they come" in the kitchen.

As his eatery flourished, Trotter became a regular at civic functions and charity dinners. At one point, his restaurant was purchasing produce from a garden tended by youth in the troubled Cabrini-Green housing projects.

But as diners rung in the New Year in 2012, Trotter announced that he'd be shuttering his restaurant months later. The restaurant closed late that summer, just after its 25th anniversary.

Trotter remained in the news after that final meal, but often not for the best reasons. The chef abruptly ended an auction of his restaurant's wares when only about a third of the items had been sold.

Then this summer, he was sued for allegedly selling two wine collectors a bogus bottle for thousands of dollars, which he denied.

In August, almost a year to the day after the restaurant closed, Trotter kicked out high school students who had been invited to showcase their artwork from an after-school program in the former restaurant. One student said Trotter "went ballistic" when their instructor declined the chef's request that they sweep floors and clean toilets.

Trotter was the keynote speaker Sunday at the Jackson Hole Culinary Conference, which was hosted by Central Wyoming College at Jackson.

Susan Thulin, the director of the college, said Trotter arrived Sunday and left early Monday morning. The subject of his speech was excellence, and he spoke about "empowering your employees, being passionate about what you're doing … and working so hard they have to hire two people to replace you," she said.

While this was the first Jackson Hole Culinary Conference, Thulin said Trotter had been to the area several times before to ski with his son and hoped to return this winter with him. "We're so sad to hear of his passing away," Thulin said. "He really touched those that were there" to hear his speech.

Thulin also said that Trotter talked about how proud he was of his wife, who was running in the New York City marathon the same day.


Charlie Trotter Dies at 54

Renowned chef Charlie Trotter died on Tuesday at the age of 54.

The restaurateur was found unconscious and not breathing at his Chicago home by his son, Dylan, the Chicago Tribune reports. An ambulance was called and Trotter was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

“We are incredibly shocked and deeply saddened by the unexpected loss of Charlie at our home in Lincoln Park. He was much loved and words can not describe how much he will be missed,” his wife, Rochelle, tells PEOPLE in a statement.

𠇌harlie was a trailblazer and introduced people to a new way of dining when he opened Charlie Trotter’s. His impact upon American cuisine and the culinary world at large will always be remembered. We thank you so much for your kind words, love and support. We appreciate the respect for our privacy as we work through this difficult time.

Trotter – who hosted a PBS cooking show in the �s and published more than a dozen cookbooks – closed his namesake restaurant last year and announced plans to pursue a master’s degree in philosophy.

“I’ve always had a romantic vision that you can do anything you want at any time in your life,” he told the New Yorker. “What’s the worst that can happen? I can always be a cook.”

Trotter’s Michelin-starred restaurant, which opened in 1987, was a training ground for some of the country’s best-known chefs including MasterChef judge Graham Elliot.

𠇌harlie was an extreme father figure to me when it came to not just cooking, but life, and seeing things in a different way,” Elliot said. “I just can’t put into words how saddened I am by all of this. It’s a huge loss, not just personally, but for the culinary world.”


Reports: Charlie Trotter Dead at 54

Written by Scott Joseph on 05 November 2013 on 05 November 2013 .

Celebrated Chicago restaurateur Charlie Trotter has died, according to reports from that city. He was 54. He closed his critically acclaimed namesake restaurant in 2012, stating at the time that he wanted to travel and go back to school to earn a master's degree.

Most recently, Trotter had been scheduled to be part of the 10th anniversary celebration of Norman's, the Orlando restaurant of Norman Van Aken. He was to be one of the five celebrity chefs preparing the gala dinner that also included Emeril Lagasse, Jeremiah Tower and Dean Fearing. However, at a meet and greet event the night before the dinner, members of the staff of Norman's were muttering that Trotter had not yet shown up. The next night, Van Aken announced, somewhat enigmatically, that Trotter was ill and unable to travel. Members of Trotter's culinary staff cooked in his place.

Van Aken and Trotter met in 1980 when both were hired to work at a Chicago restaurant owned by Gordon Sinclair. Van Aken was hired for the kitchen, Trotter was busing tables. This is from a profile I did of Van Aken in 2003:

"Sinclair also hired a young man named Charlie Trotter to bus tables at the same restaurant, but Van Aken soon brought him into the kitchen to train in the preparation of food. 'I think what he did was he showed me that an approach to being a chef could be more than just cooking,' says Trotter, owner of Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago and also a past James Beard award winner, 'there was also an intellectual side.'”

There are no details yet on the cause of death.

This story is developing and will be updated.

We hope you find our reviews and news articles useful and entertaining. It has always been our goal to assist you in making informed decisions when spending your dining dollars. If we’ve helped you in any way, please consider making a contribution to help us continue our journalism. Thank you.


Charlie Trotter, chef who redefined fine dining, dies at 54

CHICAGO With a culinary style he likened to improvisational jazz, Charlie Trotter changed the way Americans view fine dining, pushing himself, his staff, his food and even his diners to limits rarely seen in an American restaurant. Yet it was his reluctance to move beyond those limits that may have defined the last years of his life.

Award-winning chef Charlie Trotter is seen during an interview with The Associated Press at his restaurant in Chicago Aug. 28, 2012. AP Photo

Trotter, 54, died Tuesday, a year after closing his namesake Chicago restaurant that was credited with putting his city at the vanguard of the food world and training dozens of the nation's top chefs, including Grant Achatz and Graham Elliot.

Paramedics were called around 10 a.m. to Trotter's Lincoln Park home, where they found him unresponsive. An ambulance crew transported Trotter to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he was declared dead after unsuccessful attempts to revive him, Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said. An autopsy was planned for Wednesday.

His wife, Rochelle Trotter, on Tuesday expressed the family's shock at his death and appreciation for the many tributes pouring in from all quarters.

Trending News

"He was much loved and words cannot describe how much he will be missed," she said in a statement. ". His impact upon American Cuisine and the culinary world at large will always be remembered."

For decades, Trotter's name was synonymous with cutting-edge cuisine. He earned 10 James Beard Awards, wrote 10 cookbooks and in 1999 hosted his own public television series, "The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter."

"It was the beginning of the notion that America could have a real haute cuisine on par with Europe," said Anthony Bourdain. "That was what Charlie did."

Yet Trotter never went to culinary school. He grew up in the northern Chicago suburb of Wilmette and majored in political science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. But an inspiring meal several years earlier had planted the desire to cook.

After graduation, he created a de facto apprenticeship, landing his first job at a restaurant in Chicago's North Shore area called Sinclair's, where he worked under now well-known chefs such as Norman Van Aken and Carrie Nahabedian.

From there Trotter moved to restaurants in Florida, San Francisco and France, all the while eating widely and reading cookbooks voraciously. When he returned to the U.S. - and with financial backing from his family - he purchased a Victorian house in Chicago and opened Charlie Trotters in it in 1987.

"His restaurant shaped the world of food," said Dana Cowin, editor-in-chief of Food & Wine magazine. "He was so innovative and focused and intense and really brilliant. When he opened Charlie Trotter he was so original."

Trotter's food was grounded in classical French technique, but blended seamlessly with Asian influences. He believed fervently in the power of simplicity and clean cooking, turning to simple vegetable purees and stocks - rather than heavy sauces - to deliver standup flavor in menus that changed daily.

"He was a part of bringing in unusual ingredients and really scouring the world for ingredients that you never tasted before," said fellow Chicago restaurateur Rick Bayless. "He was really on that forefront of creating the modern tasting menu."

He also was an early advocate of using seasonal and organic ingredients, as well as sustainably raised or caught meat and seafood.

"Charlie was a visionary, an unbelievable chef that brought American cuisine to new heights," Emeril Lagasse, a close friend of Trotter's, said in an email. "We have lost a tremendous human being and an incredible chef and restaurateur."

Trotter was gruff, exacting, demanding and a culinary genius. And for years, the restaurant was considered one of the best in the nation, earning two Michelin stars the first year the guide rated Chicago restaurants.

He also was giving. He created a charitable group that not only awarded culinary scholarships, but also brought disadvantaged children to his restaurant every week to teach them about fine dining.

But in time, the food world caught up with him. And food culture changed, with celebrity often trumping skill. It was a world to which he adapted poorly.

"The last few times I saw him were at a food and wine festivals where people didn't recognize him. People did not acknowledge him for his incredibly important place in history," said Bourdain. "Back in Charlie's day, it was really the merit system. Being a great chef was enough. You didn't have to be lovable."

Meanwhile, chefs such as Achatz - of award-winning Chicago restaurants Alinea and Next - became so avant-garde, Trotter's menus seem almost dated. And the very organic and seasonal philosophies he'd spearheaded had become commonplace.

In 2012 - and in keeping with his reputation for bold, unexpected moves - Trotter closed his iconic 120-seat restaurant. His plan? Return to college to study philosophy.

"The one thing it will do for me is let me wipe a certain slate clean. And while I'm studying and reading and applying myself to something else, if I decide to come back to the restaurant world, I think I'm going to bring a different perspective," he told The Associated Press in an interview last year.

"My hope is to really learn how to think very differently on the whole thing," he said.

Trotter was hospitalized in New York City this summer after having a seizure, close family friend and early Trotter mentor Van Aken said Tuesday. Van Aken said he didn't know what caused the seizure.

Van Aken said it was a shame the public rarely saw other sides of Trotter's personality - the wit that drove him to share video clips of W.C. Fields, his reenactments of scenes from "The Godfather," his love of Miles Davis.

In a behind-the-scenes look for the AP three days before closing night, the Charlie Trotter's staff held a typically detail-laden pre-dinner meeting, discussing specifics down to the exact dates when diners last ate at the restaurant and reminders about when to use certain wine glasses.

Dishes from the final week of menus included poached white asparagus with charred broccolini, manchego cheese and red pepper essence and root beer leaf ice cream with vanilla cremeaux and birch syrup-infused meringue.

Some might have thought the move from the restaurant world was too risky. Not Trotter.

"What's the worst that could happen? Life's too short. You may be on this planet for 80 years at best or who knows, but you can't just pedal around and do the same thing forever," he told the AP in 2012.

First published on November 6, 2013 / 9:19 AM

© 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Charlie Trotter: Dead at 54

If you have ever worked in a professional kitchen, outside of your typical chain restaurant or “mom and pop” joint, you probably were influenced by Charlie Trotter in some way.

When I was in culinary school in 1995, Trotter’s was the place to go for any young cook wanting to make a name for themselves. Before there was Keller, Morimoto, Adria, and all of those who are now the places to be, Trotter was the Chef to make a splash on American dining.

Charlie Trotter (in my humble opinion) reinvented, at least gave a whole new avenue, for the American diner. His restaurant was the first to make a noise for the chef driven restaurant. He had a vision, direction, and the discipline to make it happen.

I had the pleasure of listening to Charlie Trotter speak at The National Restaurant Association show in Chicago, along time ago. So far back you used cassette tapes. I hung on every word Charlie said that day. It struck me so close to heart that I purchased a copy of his speech, on cassette, and would often listen to it in my car. I should say cars, because I still have that tape and it has outlasted some of those cars, most of my relationships.

One statement he said during that speech was, “It’s not always about the bottom line. Sometimes you have to look at what is best, and figure it out from there.” He preached in that speech on how everyone who worked at Trotter’s should begin there day thinking about how they could improve the environment around them, picking up trash along the block because it might would make the dining experience better for those who came into the restaurant.

He reframed how I thought about the industry I was, and still am, in. It was no longer the “restaurant industry”, or the “hospitality industry” it was “the world of food and wine”. Fitting, as the world gets smaller through technology and travel, the world of food and wine gets bigger.

I have never had the pleasure of dining at Trotter’s, but on one lucky day while I was a stagiere at The Inn at Little Washington, I was able to cook for him. Standing in the beautiful, ornate kitchen, wearing my borrowed dalmation printed pants, I had the chance to serve Chef Trotter and Chef O’Connell. I can only hope I did the kitchen justice that day.

His spirit will live on through the cooks and chefs he inspired, mentored, and trained.