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updated: 11/6/2013 1:46 PM

Charlie Trotter redefined fine dining

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  • Video: Charlie Trotter dies at 54

  • Chef Charlie Trotter

      Chef Charlie Trotter
    2012 file photo

  • Margaret O'Connor, left, consoles chef Priscila Satkoff during a candlelight memorial Tuesday for chef Charlie Trotter outside Trotter's former restaurant.

      Margaret O'Connor, left, consoles chef Priscila Satkoff during a candlelight memorial Tuesday for chef Charlie Trotter outside Trotter's former restaurant.
    Associated Press

  • A woman places a candle on the steps of Chicago Chef Charlie Trotter's former restaurant after friends and former employees of Trotter's placed them there after a candle light tribute to Trotter, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, in Chicago. 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.

      A woman places a candle on the steps of Chicago Chef Charlie Trotter's former restaurant after friends and former employees of Trotter's placed them there after a candle light tribute to Trotter, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, in Chicago. 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.

  • Chef Art Smith looks down during a candle light tribute to Chicago Chef Charlie Trotter outside Trotter's former restaurant Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, in Chicago. 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.

      Chef Art Smith looks down during a candle light tribute to Chicago Chef Charlie Trotter outside Trotter's former restaurant Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, in Chicago. 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.

  • A card addressed to Chef, and a bouquet of flowers rest on the stairs to Charlie Trotter's permanently closed Chicago restaurant after reports of the chef's death Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, in Chicago. Trotter, 54, an award-winning chef, was a self-taught culinary master whose eponymous Chicago restaurant elevated the cityís cuisine and provided a training ground for some of the nationís other best chefs.

      A card addressed to Chef, and a bouquet of flowers rest on the stairs to Charlie Trotter's permanently closed Chicago restaurant after reports of the chef's death Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, in Chicago. Trotter, 54, an award-winning chef, was a self-taught culinary master whose eponymous Chicago restaurant elevated the cityís cuisine and provided a training ground for some of the nationís other best chefs.

 
Associated Press

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.

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 is planned for today.

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.

"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.

Yet Trotter never went to culinary school. He grew up in 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., 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."

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