Chicago's Food Elite Honor the Late, Great Charlie Trotter

Ariel Cheung | June 25, 2019 | People

Four simple words define a Chicago chef’s pedigree like no other: “Worked for Charlie Trotter.” Seven years after the celebrated Charlie Trotter’s shut its doors on Armitage and Halsted, its impact reverberates through Chicago’s dining scene—and these industry elites are proof of just that.

Clockwise from left: John and Karen Shields, Debbie Gold, Ervin Sandoval, Grant Achatz

John and Karen Shields, Smyth
“Not only did we meet at his restaurant, but Chef Trotter instilled in us an invaluable work ethic, attention to detail, hospitality and a cuisine based around nature.”

Grant Achatz, Alinea
“Chef Trotter's formidable management style and unwavering pursuit of perfection taught the teams incredible lessons, informing them of who they would later become. It exposed me to striving for flawlessness at any cost and the vast world of possibilities in creative gastronomy."

Ervin Sandoval, Benny’s Chop House
“Each of us understood that going above and beyond for our guests was the key to a memorable dining expeirence. This was a legacy that shaped the meaning of the word hospitality."

Debbie Gold, Tied House
“It was the place everyone talked about, in terms of what was going on all over the world in regard to food. I worked with a lot of great, fresh produce that a lot of restaurants at the time were not using. Charlie was using only the best."

Clockwise from left: Sari Zernich Worsham, Giuseppe Tentori, Belinda Chang

Sari Zernich Worsham, mfk and Bar Biscay
“Chef Trotter would throw you the ball, and it was up to you to take it as far as you could. Eventually, the ball would drop, you would see that sharp look in his eyes, and it was up to you to pick it up as fast as you could."

Giuseppe Tentori, GT Prime and GT Fish & Oyster
“Charlie taught me to be spontaneous with my dishes, and that each dish should communicate who I am to the guest. The greatest motto he taught me was, 'Do what it takes to make the guest happy when they leave here.' I call on that philosophy in my restaurants today."

Belinda Chang, wine and lifestyle expert
“Charlie invited me to join the team precisely because I didn't have years and years of fine dining experience in Chicago—no bad habits to break. I cried every night for the first three weeks. It was worth it. I’ve never been able to duplicate that will to win at all costs.”

Clockwise from top left: Joe Campagna, Bill Kim, Derrek Hull

Joe Campagna, Bar Biscay
“I know it was a big moment when I had the opportunity to work there, but I had no idea it would impact my way of doing things forever. Honoring the ingredients and those who produced them focused me on not wasting anything and to think efficiently about everything I did."

Bill Kim, urbanbelly
“The one thing that carries with me most is that charity was part of Charlie’s DNA. He’d invite kids from underserved neighborhoods to eat right before dinner service, and we'd serve them exactly what the diners got. He taught me to be able to give in that way.”

Derrek Hull, The Trotter Project
“It's been humbling and immensely gratifying to keep his legacy a large part of the hospitality industry. Charlie Trotter was a huge part of the farm-to-table movement, and our increasing leadership in the farm-to-classroom space is a culmination of his passion to mentor underserved youth and a credo of service to others."

The Trotter Project
Many say that the true legacy of Charlie Trotter, who died in 2013, was giving those around him a leg up whenever possible. At The Trotter Project, that mission continues in the form of mentorship and education for aspiring young chefs. For the fifth year, restaurants around the world—and, of course, in Chicago—will uphold that philosophy with Charlie Trotter Days, with proceeds supporting The Trotter Project scholarships and internships. Aug. 11-18


Photography by: giuseppe tentori photo by anthony tahlier | belinda chang photo courtesy of belinda chang | shields photo by galdones photography | bill kim photo by connor rudny | charlie trotter photo by paul elledge/the trotter project | debbie gold photo by austin isaac peters | derrek hull photo by lorenzo tassone | grant achatz photo by matthew gilson