With a culinary style he likened to improvisational jazz, Charlie Trotter changed the way Americans view fine dining, pushing himself, his staff, his food, and even his diners to limits rarely seen in an American restaurant. Yet it was his reluctance to move beyond those limits that may have defined the last years of his life.
Trotter, 54, died Tuesday, a year after closing his namesake Chicago restaurant that was credited with putting his city at the vanguard of the food world and training dozens of the nation’s top chefs, including Grant Achatz and Graham Elliot. Paramedics were called around 10 a.m. to Trotter’s Lincoln Park home, where they found him unresponsive. An ambulance crew transported Trotter to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he died after unsuccessful attempts to revive him, Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said. An autopsy was planned for Wednesday.
For decades, Trotter’s name was synonymous with cutting-edge cuisine. He earned 10 James Beard Awards, wrote 10 cookbooks, and in 1999 hosted his own public television series, The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter.
“It was the beginning of the notion that America could have a real haute cuisine on par with Europe,” said Anthony Bourdain. “That was what Charlie did.”
Bourdain and other celebrity chefs paid tribute to Trotter on Tuesday through social media:
Trotter’s onetime employer PBS tweeted a video of the late chef in a 1995 appearance on Julia Child’s show:
In 2012 – and in keeping with his reputation for bold, unexpected moves – Trotter closed his iconic 120-seat restaurant. His plan? Return to college to study philosophy. Some might have thought the move from the restaurant world was too risky. Not Trotter.
“What’s the worst that could happen? Life’s too short,” he told the AP in 2012. “You may be on this planet for 80 years at best or who knows, but you can’t just pedal around and do the same thing forever.”
–Additional reporting by EW staff