Chicago chef Charlie Trotter dead at 54

November 5, 2013

Staff and wire reports

AP/file
Chef Charlie Trotter

Award-winning chef Charlie Trotter has died, a year after closing his eponymous Chicago restaurant that is credited with elevating the city's cuisine and providing a training ground for some of the nation's other best chefs.

Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford says rescue crews were called around 10 a.m. Tuesday to the Lincoln Park home of the award-winning chef, where they found Trotter unresponsive.

Langford says an ambulance crew transported Trotter to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he died after unsuccessful attempts to revive him.

“We are incredibly shocked and deeply saddened by the unexpected loss of Charlie," his wife, Rochelle Trotter, said in a statement. "His impact upon American cuisine and the culinary world at large will always be remembered." 

Fellow chef Emeril Lagasse also offered a statement to WBEZ Tuesday that described his friendship with Trotter.

“My brother, Charlie and I go way back. Charlie, myself and Norman (Van Aken) had a triangle," he wrote. "We travelled the world together, raised our families together…Charlie was a visionary, an unbelievable Chef that brought American cuisine to new heights. We have lost a tremendous human being and an incredible chef and restaurateur. It’s a very sad day and my heart goes out to Charlie’s family.”

Master Sommelier Larry Stone served as Trotter's sommelier in the '80s and '90s, and returned to help wind down the restaurant last year. Stone says that Trotter's family and friends had been concerned for years over weak arteries in the chef's brain.

"We all were concerned about his health and it's sad that it wound up this way," Stone said Tuesday. "He had some problems that were incurable with weak arteries and an aneurysm in the brain. He was aware of it for several years, and by the time he quit he had a fatalistic approach to that. Nothing could be done for it. It was a ticking time bomb, so to speak, and it went off."

The Cook County medical examiners office is planning an autopsy for Wednesday. A candlelight vigil is expected Tuesday afternoon at the site of Trotter's shuttered restaurant.

Trotter is synonymous with gourmet cuisine, earning 10 James Beard Awards and providing a training ground for some of the city's top chefs, such as Graham Elliot Bowles, Matthias Merges, Bill Kim, Grant Achatz, Homaro Cantu, Curtis Duffy and Giuseppe Tentori.

Charlie Trotter's earned two stars when the highly respected Michelin Guide debuted in Chicago.

A self-taught chef, Trotter 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. 

In 1987 Trotter opened Charlie Trotter’s putting Chicago on the culinary map with his innovative nouvelle American cuisine that emphasized farm-to-table sourcing.

Last year, Trotter announced he planned to close his famed eponymous restaurant after 25 years. He planned to go back to grad school.

In March 2012 he told WBEZ’s Steve Edwards, “I had re-read Robert Graves’ ‘Goodbye To All That,’ his memoir to his time in the war,” Trotter said, “and I thought that sometimes you just have to stop what you’re doing now and do something very different or I’ll never do it.”

Protégé and chef Graham Elliot Bowles released a statement Tuesday saying:

“Charlie Trotter was a mentor in both my professional and personal life since I first met him over fifteen years ago. His dedication to excellence, the city of Chicago and the culinary world at large inspired countless cooks to find their own voice and follow their dreams. He now belongs to the ages.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office also released a statement Tuesday saying:

“Charlie Trotter changed Chicago’s restaurant scene forever and played a leading role in elevating the city to the culinary capital it is today.  Charlie’s personality mirrored his cooking – bold, inventive and always memorable.  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.”

Long-time Trotter sommelier Joseph Spellman said Tuesday that he was shocked and saddened by his friend's death.

"The greatest part of what he did was challenge anyone who worked with him to dig deep and find the level of excellence he knew they had within them," Spellman said, " and then to dig deeper to find even greater excellence, creativity, class and hospitality."

Since Trotter closed his iconic 60-seat restaurant in 2012, he ran 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.

The Trotter family says memorial service details will be forthcoming.