Charlie Trotter dies: ‘His words to me will ring on forever’
[Updated: 7:12 p.m.: Charlie Trotter’s family issued a statement earlier expressing sorrow at the shocking death of the 54-year-old acclaimed chef and asking for privacy “as we work through this difficult time.”
Many chefs, including notable L.A. chefs, have expressed awe at the influence, skill and teachings of Trotter.
“Chef Trotter greatly influenced my life both personally and professionally,” said Hinoki & the Bird’s David Myers, whose first kitchen job was at Charlie Trotter’s. “He was not only a chef and mentor but a friend. I have incredibly fond memories of working in his kitchen.
“From the moment I first read his book I was inspired beyond belief. Little did I know that working in his kitchen would have such a great influence on my life. Throughout my time with him, Charlie taught me so much and made me feel like I could accomplish anything. He was truly a great man who influenced so many incredible chefs. His words to me will ring on forever.”]
[Updated, 12:14 p.m. The shocking passing was felt in many parts of the country - an attribute to Trotter’s mark on the food world.
Trotter, 54, opened his eponymous restaurant 25 years ago and became one of the leaders in the then-new group of American born fine-dining chefs. It was widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in the United States and became well-known for its extensive (and expensive) tasting menus and wine list.
Spago pastry chef Della Gossett had worked for Trotter for 10 years.
“He was an amazing mentor and chef and all of us in the kitchen learned so much from Charlie. He pushed us to be the best that we can be. So many amazing chefs have come out of the kitchen of Charlie Trotter’s. A lot of us are quite close still and the friendships we made at the restaurant have lasted a very long time and have continued to grow.
“Honestly, all of us are in shock. I started receiving text messages and phone calls this morning. I think all of us will remember him as being a great chef and humanitarian. He did so much for the world of cuisine and for the schools in Chicago, reaching out to kids and with his Excellence Program teaching them about not only fine dining, but life lessons in the kitchen.
“I feel incredibly lucky that I was able to work with him.”
The last year had been difficult for Trotter. In August, he was slammed in the press for having blown up at a group of high school art students who were using the restaurant space as a gallery. Last December, he had also pulled the plug on the public auction of some of the contents of his restaurant when bids did not meet his expectations. And in June, he was sued by a group of wine collectors who had paid more than $46,000 for a single bottle from the restaurant cellar at auction and later found it to be counterfeit.
[Update 11:07 a.m.: L.A. chef David LeFevre, owner at MB Post and Fishing With Dynamite in Manhattan Beach, worked for Trotter for 10 years, dating back to his externship from the Culinary Institute of America.
“He’s probably the most important guy in my career,” he said, while waiting to board a flight from Chicago to Los Angeles after a brief vacation. “It’s funny because I’ve been talking a lot about Charlie this weekend because I was back in Chicago and seeing friends from that period.
“I think I can attribute the majority of my attention to detail and the majority of my awareness of what it takes to run a fine dining restaurant to him. He had a very acute sense of attention to detail and he saw things that most people didn’t see. All of us who worked for him are better chefs because we came out of that kitchen.
“He may not have been the best people person sometimes when he was trying to achieve a very difficult goal, but there’s no arguing that he made us all better chefs.
“I’ve spoken with 10 or 12 people this morning who worked with him and every one is very sad about this. Those of us who got to spend a lot of time with him knew a very caring side of him that not everyone could see.”]
Though his cooking was always a critical success, business problems plagued Trotter. A high-end deli called Trotter-to-Go closed after several years. A Las Vegas outlet called Restaurant Charlie earned Best New Restaurant of the Year from the James Beard Foundation in 2009, but closed after only a couple of years. Finally, Trotter closed his flagship restaurant in August 2012, saying he wanted to travel and study.
According to the Chicago Tribune, an ambulance was called to Trotter’s home Tuesday morning and he was found unconscious and not breathing.
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