Goodbye Charlie Trotter

Chef Charlie Trotter died on November 5, 2013, the victim of  . . . well, no one’s quite sure yet. We’ll have to wait for the final results of the autopsy. Meanwhile, like many others, I was stunned at his death. And sad. He was only 54.


I met Charlie years ago, shortly after he had launched his eponymous restaurant in Chicago, not far from DePaul University. Mitchell managed the dining room then. Guillermo was at the stove. Larry Stone curated the wine list. Charlie roamed about both spaces, shouting and soothing. I’d never witnessed a chef like him.


I wrote a story about his efforts after my first visit. It was titled “Gung Ho!” Charlie liked it, and we became friends. I’d link you to it but it was published 20 years ago.


Over time, then, I had a glimpse of Charlie’s capacity for work, fueled by his vision and ambition. Not only did Charlie constantly develop innovative degustation menus, he cranked out cookbook after cookbook — and thoughtfully sent copies to me. He traveled widely and upgraded his eatery. I recall being astounded when he added a shiny new wing to his restaurant so he could demonstrate his cooking chops on TV and for groups.

Charlie's first cookbooks, which he signed with affection.
Charlie’s first cookbook, which he signed with affection.

In any case, like I said, it was years ago. I hadn’t eaten in his restaurant for a decade (though I must have visited it a dozen times in the ten years before, either as his guest or trying to impress my own guest with his terrific food.)


Of course, I regret not going to the restaurant during its final days last year. I spoke to Charlie briefly before it closed, however. He told me he wanted to return to school for a Master’s degree. I thought he said he wanted to study literature, but I read recently he was taking philosophy classes. Alas, Charlie died long before his time. I wish he hadn’t.