Happy International Charlie Trotter Day! For those of you who don’t know who he is, Charlie Trotter was a legendary chef who owned a world renowned restaurant in Chicago which he closed in 2012, just prior to passing away on November 5, 2013 from complications due to a stroke. He was one of the first to take food and wine pairings seriously and his viewpoint of food was to view it as more of an art form than just something we have to do to stay alive. He saw cooking as a delicate balance between using the finest ingredients he could find and elevating them to the highest possible level. He inspired legions of today’s biggest chefs, despite having had the reputation of being very difficult to work with.
My experience with him was solely as a customer. For my 33rd birthday, Jeff arranged for us to dine at Trotter’s restaurant in the kitchen at his chef’s table which was a VERY difficult reservation to get. We were fortunate to have friends who knew the sous chef and were able to help us get the reservation on a Tuesday night. I had no idea where we were going and actually didn’t know where we were until we were already at the restaurant. We were joined by our friends who helped us get the reservation as well as by my father in law and his girlfriend, who literally flew to Chicago for dinner all the way from California. (A super story to tell the folks at work the next day.)
We opted for the elaborate taster menu along with the full wine pairings. And let me just say that from beginning to end, the entire staff, waiters, sommelier, chefs and bus boys were fantastic. For what it’s worth, Charlie may have been a challenge to work with, but he most certainly knew how to train his staff to provide the highest possible level of service and cuisine you could hope for.
As soon as we began chatting with the head waiter we told him we also own a restaurant so they immediately proceeded to put me in a chef smock and actually had me plate the entire rest of the meal. It was quite fun. The highlight, however, was when Charlie himself arrived. We were toward the end of the savory section of the meal and leading into the desserts. From the moment he arrived to the moment he left, he was absolutely lovely with us. He spent the better part of about a half an hour with us, chatting, drinking and being jovial. At one point he had me behind the line plating and he says to me, “I’m going to pretend to be Gordon Ramsey and yell at you.” Just at that moment Jeff snapped a photo. It was perfect. Classic memory from an unforgettable night.
Right afterward he remarked that he liked having a female chef next to him wearing heels and that maybe he should have all his female chefs wear heels. A little tongue in cheek but it was supposed to be a joke. He also at one point made a toast to us saying “I’d rather be here with you people than with the finest people in the world.” We got a good laugh at that.
After our meal, we were given a full tour of the facility, including the impressive wine cellar and classroom kitchen and upon leaving, I was informed that Charlie had left me a gift for my birthday. A bag with 3 of his esteemed cookbooks and a signature Charlie Trotter baseball cap. A classy touch to a classy, delicious and incredible night.
So while chefs and foodies around the world celebrate Charlie Trotter’s legacy today, I celebrate the man I met for a brief moment in time and the amazing dining experience he and his staff crafted for us that evening. I will always think of him fondly and will always hold a special place in my heart for the generous hospitality he showed us that night. May you rest in peace Charlie Trotter.