Thursday, Charlie Trotter (the chef) stood under the newly unveiled street sign bearing his name, a few steps west of Charlie Trotter's (the restaurant), closing tonight after 25 years of international acclaim, to answer a few questions from journalists, including yours truly.
Too bad my little interview seemed to go south almost as soon as it had started.
"Any other trick questions?" asked Trotter. I'd been asking him about his current school plans, since he first told the Sun-Times' Janet Fuller that he was planning to study philosophy and political theory for a master's degree. But he'd also said that Trotter's To Go, his take-out shop, would remain open; it's since closed.
So a lot can happen in nine months.
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Trotter did say he'd be studying "φιλοσοφία (philosophia)" — and yes, in Greek. As for where, "It's down to Northwestern or the University of Chicago," he said. And what specifically? "The Greeks versus the Germans," said Trotter — and then he countered with the "trick question" thing.
I have to admit that he rattled me, but that should hardly have been a surprise, given his mythically mean reputation: Mark Caro's threepartseries in the Tribune includes accounts of Trotter making chefs, including a young Graham Elliot Bowles, cry.
A couple of years ago I got a rare peek at the other Charlie Trotter. Ken Hom — the Chicago-raised, Chinese-American chef sought out by a young Chuck Trotter in California for Chinese cooking lessons — had invited me to dinner at the restaurant. Trotter and his wife, Rochelle, had been hosting a charity dinner in their home, but made it back near the end of the night to sit down together for a few more glasses of legendary wine — and the stories they unlocked. I don't remember much about the dishes, and as Caro's series revealed, there really are no signature Trotter dishes, with courses changing constantly. At the street sign unveiling, Rochelle Trotter said the guest who'd dined with them the most had had over 400 meals with them, and not a single course repeated ever.
Trotter said after he takes the autumn to close up shop, he plans to take a three-year hiatus to travel (to Buenos Aires, Portugal and Scotland), and earn his master's. He'd said he plans to open another restaurant, but who really knows? Whatever he does, now is not the end; whatever comes next will be his way.