Charlie Trotter has inspired chefs, students, home cooks, foodies, etc around the world. I remember when his first series of cookbooks were released. I was a line cook at Aureole working for “the other Charlie” The Charlie Trotter cookbook was filled with inspiration. He demonstrated a whole new approach to cooking, presentation, ingredients and food combinations. Instantly we were all trying and copying these new culinary ideas.
My first chef position was at Silks at the Mandarin. At this restaurant I got to work with one of the most inspiring sommeliers I have ever known. Renee Nicole Kubin. She came to work at Silks from Trotters in Chicago. She was part of Trotters opening team working under Larry Stone. Because of Renee Nicole I finally started to understand fine cuisine. As the chef of a restaurant there is a natural sense of arrogance and importance that comes with the job. Renee Nicole was the only person in the restaurant that would talk back to me. (but in proper manner) I would always listen because I was learning. She would always share Trotter experience insights to every culinary situation that arose. I would sometimes get angry, but I would always listen. I remember once she corrected me on which garniture should be served with caviar traditionally. She was right, chives was not one of them. So I threw the dish against the wall above her head. Was that Kitchen aggravation or craziness? or passion just like Chef Trotter?
Chef Trotter was an extremely passionate chef. Every conversation I had with him was always about Food, culinary adventures or Jazz, his other passion. Many times his passion, excitement to share was miss interpreted as arrogance. I interpreted it as inspiration.
The first time I actually met Chef Trotter I was in Chicago for a charity event for 2 days. The first night we were there we ate Trotters. The chefs tasting menu that lasted until 2:00 am.
I was treated like royalty. He graciously invited us back to eat the following night for a special dinner in honor of the late Chef Patrick Clark. the next night we went to eat 7 courses at a friends restaurant, then went to Trotters for 12 more courses. Another evening that ended at 2:oo am in Trotters watching the cooks clean the entire kitchen.
My next chef position was for Nobu in Milan Italy, another culinary adventure for myself. One afternoon my wife called up to the kitchen, and said that Charlie Trotter is here to see you. This was a day I would never forget. This was a true episode of iron chef. I was not prepared to make lunch for one of the greatest chefs in the world that day. He was one of the most important guests we have ever served there in my opinion. At the end of their meal I enjoyed a glass of wine with Chef and Rochelle his girlfriend at the time.
The next time I called upon Chef Trotter, I was working on my cookbook ( which is still not completed). I had the honor of having Chef Charlie Trotter write the forward to my future cookbook. Now under the circumstances I am compelled even more to get it finished. There has been financial, and health struggles along the way, but now I am back on track. Any time I would see Chef Trotter, he would always ask how is the book coming along? So Chef now its in writing the book is coming along!
My final encounter and most memorable with Chef Trotter was at the final evening of his great restaurant Trotters. when we heard the news of his closing we hurriedly called and made reservations. Some how we were the last chef table in the kitchen, on the last evening, the last service. Amazing. I brought my friend, and chef Torsten Schulz, and our wifes.
When we walked into the kitchen everyone starred wondering who would be sitting at the last chefs table. Well it was us, 2 couples from Cleveland Ohio whom flown in to pay homage to this great American Chef. We ate 17 courses and once again we were one of the last tables to leave the restaurant. We did many pictures with the staff and Chef Trotter. Outside we walked and talked a minute. Chef Trotter showed me the street sign that the city posted in honor of his great restaurant of 25 years.
Chef Trotter is a unique one of kind culinary inspiration. Just to sit in his kitchen, and watch extreme team work, was unforgettable. I watched the valet wash dishes, the hostess serve food, the cooks explain the dishes table-side, perfect service, perfection in all the details. Chef Trotter set a bar that I strive continually to achieve.
I think some of the biggest misunderstandings was watching him on tv in the later days involving the closing of his restaurant. I saw an artists frustration with spectators that just couldn’t comprehend or respect his years of works of art. He was a giving man always teaching, guiding, directing the next culinary generation.