Charlie Trotter's tragic passingContinue reading.
Shock of Charlie Trotter's death brings rush of memories
Only last Tuesday when I crossed paths with Charlie Trotter’s wife, Rochelle at Fox 32 — we chatted about plans to get together. “Charlie is so excited to be going back to school in January,” Rochelle said with a smile. “Maybe you can come over to our house and we’ll cook dinner together,” she added.
Cooking WITH Charlie Trotter. What a dream! Now, sadly, that will never happen. The shocking news Tuesday that the famed chef had suddenly died at 54 brought with a flood of memories of many Trotter experiences.
Not surprisingly — given the creative genius’ huge impact on the dining world — many of those memories are food related.
While Charlie, of course, carved out his own niche with his iconic self-named gourment mecca on West Armitage — my first thought was of a very different Charlie Trotter: Playing sous chef, frankly a simple assistant to his wife, as Rochelle prepped for one of her lifestyle/cooking segments on the Chicago Fox station earlier this year.
“I love doing this,” said Charlie with a laugh, as he touted several large vats of veggies and other supplies near the Fox set. “It’s fun being the helper, and not being the focus of attention,” he added. Given Trotter’s reputation for an enormous ego, I must say his comments were surprising — though it came across more as a testament to his adoration for his wife.
Over the years, along with the legion of Trotter afficiandos, I dined at his restaurants —both the original and others he later opened in Las Vegas and a the One and Only resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Once, I screwed up the courage to ask Charlie why those Trotter outposts didn’t last more than a few years. He shot me a look, and I first thought he’s be curt, but then he said softly, “There were many reasons, but I think mainly it was because I couldn’t be there every single day — making sure things were being run perfectly.”
If I have one memory I’ll always carry of Charlie Trotter it’s of him as the absolute perfectionist — especially when it came to food, cooking or his restaurant. In fact at a special 20th anniversary celebration of the Armitage eatery a few years ago, Emeril Lagasse quipped to me, “Are you kidding? I’m nervous as hell! Cooking with Charlie in HIS restaurant, that’s pressure!” said the famous chef and TV personality — who clearly was more intimidated cooking for a relative handful of Trotter fans in Chicago, than he was cooking in front of millions on television.
To the assembled throng Lagasse joked that Trotter couldn’t retire, “He can’t. He’s got too much debt service — and so do I!”
Turning serious, Lagasse reminded everyone that “Charlie first wanted to creat the best restaurant in the neighborhood. Then the best one in the city. Then the country. Then finally, the world.
“And he has.”
RIP, Charlie. I know there will be tales told of temper and ego. But for this guy — you were always gracious, witty and — most important — so generous in sharing your knowledge of food, and what can make it special.