On November 5, 2013, Chicago and the rest of the world lost a culinary giant when Charlie Trotter passed away in his home.
One year later, friends, family, chefs, and admirers came together to celebrate Trotter and his great influence on the dining scene.
A Toast to Charlie Trotter was an all-star tribute to the man who helped put Chicago on the map as a dining destination. Hosted by Emeril Lagasse, co-chaired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and held at Venue One, the event showcased Trotter-inspired tasting dishes created by his many protégés and peers within the chef community.
Far from a somber event, the gala instead chose a lighter tone, aiming to focus on and celebrate the chef’s life. Rochelle Trotter, Charlie Trotter’s wife and the current director of Charlie Trotter’s Culinary Education Foundation, was central in planning the event. All ticket proceeds went to support the foundation.
“I feel like I’d be doing him a disservice if I were walking around sad, laying around in the gutter somewhere,” she said. So Rochelle really considered how her late husband would like to be remembered, putting together a party that was joyous in tone and deeply personal. “The DJ was our DJ at our wedding reception. She is playing the exact same tracks that she played at our wedding reception,” she explained. “The photographer was the photographer at the last night of the restaurant.” All these details helped create an atmosphere of celebration, not mourning.
The bevy of star chefs in attendance certainly had Trotter on their minds, recalling his role as mentor and friend.
Ricky Bayless, owner of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, recalled the beginning of both his and Trotter’s journeys: “Charlie and I started off at exactly same time… And there was a certain amount of camaraderie between us because we were both trying to do something that was really different.”
Matthias Merges of Yusho and A10, a protégé of Trotter’s, said, “There’s really no one in this room or this city that hasn’t been touched in some way by Charlie and what he’s done in the past 25 years.”
“It’s an amazing opportunity to reiterate how important Chef Trotter was to Chicago and the country at large,” said Graham Elliot, executive chef of Graham Elliot Bistro and judge on MasterChef. “I think this time last year was sad and emotional because of the unexpected loss, and 12 months later, [we’re] able to revel in all the great stories and energy and apply what he taught.”