The James Beard Foundation’s annual gala at the stunning Four Seasons restaurant on Friday, headed by chefs Emeril Lagasse and Norman Van Aken, was not only the premiere fundraising event for the foundation, but this year’s event also celebrated the life of the late chef Charlie Trotter, the well-known Chicago chef who died last year. Lagasse and Van Aken headed a team of all-star chefs (including Carrie Nahabedian, Mindy Segal, Michelle Gayer, Guillermo Tellez, and Tetsuya Wakuda) to create an eight-course meal paying homage to chef Trotter’s favorite recipes. The James Beard Foundation also announced the new Charlie Trotter culinary scholarship, which will begin in 2015 in his memory.
“My team is doing a tribute to a dish that was one of Charlie’s favorites; he was one of my dear friends,” said chef Emeril Lagasse. “We had been friends for 25 years, we traveled together to Europe, we cooked together, and I am the godfather to his son, so we had a very intimate relationship.”
Charlie Trotter’s entire family was in attendance at the sold-out event, including his mother, wife, and son. The Four Seasons staff provided an assortment of hors d’oeuvres, and highlights from the sit-down meal inside the Four Seasons elegant dining room included Key West shrimp ceviche with salsa and creamy cracked corn chowder with coconut milk, saffron, and oranges from chef Van Aken; ginger and chile-marinated Bluefin tuna with spicy avocado and red miso from chef Guillermo Tellez; and truffle-quail with Andouille sausage, collard greens, and Cheddar grits.
“I chose dishes Charlie particularly liked, especially his cracked corn chowder,” said chef Van Aken, whose relationship with chef Trotter began when the late chef was a busboy at a restaurant where Van Aken was a chef. “My relationship with Charlie turned into the most profound personal relationship with someone outside of my own family. The sadness is made more tolerable with events like this, and with the scholarship because he was all about passing on the torch and illuminating people’s minds.”
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Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @JoannaFantozzi