Award-winning chef Charlie Trotter, a self-taught culinary master whose eponymous Chicago restaurant elevated the city’s cuisine and provided a training ground for some of the nation’s other best chefs, has died at the age of 54.
Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said rescue crews were called around 10 a.m. Tuesday to his Lincoln Park home, where they found Trotter unresponsive. Langford said an ambulance crew transported Trotter to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he died after unsuccessful attempts to revive him.
The Cook County medical examiner’s office said it was notified, and an autopsy was scheduled for Wednesday.
Trotter’s name is synonymous with gourmet cuisine. He earned 10 James Beard Awards and provided a training ground for some of the country’s other best-known chefs, such as fellow Beard Award-winner Grant Achatz of Chicago restaurants Alinea and Next.
Charlie Trotter’s earned two stars when the highly respected Michelin Guide debuted in Chicago.
“His restaurant shaped the world of food,” said Dana Cowin, editor-in-chief of Food & Wine magazine. “He was so innovative and focused and intense and really brilliant. When he opened Charlie Trotter he was so original.”
His legacy will be “a passion for perfection and innovation,” she said.
In keeping with his reputation for bold, unexpected moves, Trotter closed the iconic 120-seat restaurant in 2012, saying he planned to go back to college to study philosophy.
On Tuesday, a bouquet of roses was left outside the site of the former restaurant with a card that read, “Chef.”
Trotter, who never went to cooking school, wrote more than a dozen cookbooks and starred in a PBS series, “The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter.” He credited the development of his signature style to his travels in the U.S. and Europe after college and dining at the best restaurants.
He was famous for his reverence for details and he insisted his staff also be sticklers for exactness.
Such laser-like precision and military-style organization was on display a few days before his restaurant closed in August of last year.
In a behind-the-scenes look for The Associated Press three days before closing night, the Charlie Trotter’s staff held a typically detail-laden pre-dinner meeting, discussing specifics down to the exact dates when diners last ate at the restaurant and reminders about when to use certain wine glasses.
Dishes from the final week of menus included poached white asparagus with charred broccolini, manchego cheese and red pepper essence and root beer leaf ice cream with vanilla cremeaux and birch syrup-infused meringue.
Staff members recited the evening’s menus, and Trotter – relentlessly demanding – took one employee to task.
“You’re not reading, are you?” he asked. “When you go to the table do you have a piece of paper?”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel released a written statement Tuesday honoring Trotter as someone who “changed Chicago’s restaurant scene forever.”
“Charlie’s personality mirrored his cooking – bold, inventive and always memorable,” Emanuel said. “Charlie Trotter will be remembered for serving the finest food and his generous philanthropy, and he will always have a seat at the table among Chicago’s legendary figures.”
Since closing down his restaurant, Trotter had run into legal troubles.
This summer, he was sued by two New York wine collectors who say he sold them a bottle of wine for more than $46,000 that wasn’t what it said on the label.
Trotter had degrees from the University of Wisconsin in political theory and philosophy.
“It’s learning for learning’s sake,” Trotter told the AP last year in laying out his plans for further study in philosophy. “Reading some of the great books that are unread still. Only studying for studying’s sake. It’s sort of a lost thing.”
Trotter said he was “looking for a second act in a sense.”
“You’ve got to follow your instincts,” he said.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)