What I Learned From Charlie Trotter

Former Trotter's chefs react to the news of Charlie Trotter's closing

Charlie Trotter

Charlie Trotter has done a lot to put Chicago on the culinary map, but he’s also helped mold some of America's most well-known and promising chefs today. Take, for example, Graham Elliot, Homaro Cantu, Giuseppe Tentori, and, most notably of all, Alinea's Grant Achatz.

Click here for the Charlie Trotter's Chefs' Lessons Slideshow.

While there are some sour tales, notably from Achatz (who was only at Trotter’s for a few months), even he admits he wouldn’t be the chef he is without Trotter’s training. “His all-out assault to be the best, to be perfect, to make an amazing restaurant — I got that from him,” Achatz told the Chicago Sun-Times in an interview this past spring.

So when Trotter announced the closing of his eponymous Chicago restaurant on New Year’s Day, more than one alumnus started recounting tales of hazing and learning. And for many, the closing didn’t come as a surprise.

“I’ll tell you almost every year that I worked there he kind of joked about [closing the restaurant], so I just figured one day he’d stop joking about it,” Homaro Cantu said. Cantu, who worked under Trotter from 1999 to 2003, now helms the molecular gastronomy restaurant, moto, and its sister restaurant, Ing.

Trotter told the Sun-Times he will continue service through Charlie Trotter’s 25th anniversary on Aug. 17, with final dinner service on Aug. 31. He plans to enter graduate school to study philosophy and political theory, and says he will open another restaurant after completing his master’s degree.

"After 25 years, I see an opportunity to pursue new interests beyond the culinary sphere, and to build on my culinary accomplishments with new skills and passions," Trotter said in a press release.

No news yet about what type of restaurant he’s looking into opening after his studies wrap up, but Charlie Trotter’s was arguably the first of its kind, mixing cultural influences in a high-end restaurant and playing with textures.

“Before foams were ever around as a fad, Charlie was frothing up sauces well before that in the '90s,” said John Shields, the executive chef of Virginia’s Town House.

While many alumni are sad to see the place where they spent their formative years shut down, Urban Belly owner Bill Kim says he saw this coming. “This is where I went to school, I grew up here, that’s where I felt at home,” Kim said, right after lunch with Mindy Segal, another Trotter alum. “I think a lot of us who are alumni, we’re not shocked. Twenty-five years in our business is a very long time and he’s basically done everything he’s ever wanted to, in my opinion.”

"Twenty-five years is a very, very long time," echoes Giuseppe Tentori of Boka. "Twenty-five is like a statement."

Even though the "school" is closing, so to speak, the Trotter’s influence lives on in the likes of Boka, moto, and dare we say, Next.

"I think Charlie left enough people who have been working under him, and I think that’s what it’s all about," Tentori said. "Like myself, Homaro Cantu, and Curtis Duffy, we all learned something. His influence will continue with us."

Check out the accompanying slideshow for a list of anecdotes and lessons that Trotter alumni keep with them to this day.

The Daily Byte is a regular column dedicated to covering interesting food news and trends across the country. Click here for previous columns.