When the food blogs and news sources exploded with news of the untimely death of Chef Charlie Trotter, I’ll be honest — I didn’t know much about the man himself. I do, however, know that he is one of the single most influential American chefs in recent history. He is widely regarded for his culinary vision that earned his restaurant Charlie Trotter’s two Michelin stars and put Chicago on the map as a culinary destination. Any time we enjoy (and I mean truly savor) a thoughtful, well-planned multi-course tasting menu, we have Chef Trotter to thank. (I even read that some credit him with the creation of the entire micro-greens industry. Satire or not, I’m tempted to believe it.)
He is also infamously remembered for his unwavering high standards for execution; over the past week since the news broke, famous chefs all over the nation who had passed through his kitchen have been recalling the almost frightening sternness with which he demanded perfection. In fact, I coincidentally had just recently read the chapter in Grant Achatz’s memoir Life, On The Line during which he recounted his brief experience working under the man himself (it sounded more than a little horrifying). But they all came out better for it.
The influence of such an acclaimed chef is far-reaching. Through his work and that of his contemporaries, our society and culture has moved from a “food is fuel” mentality to a “food is art” appreciation. I can tell that my Chef was inspired by this culinary revolution as well, and although it is nerve-wracking to deliver any finished product to someone who insists on nothing but the best, I think it builds great strength of character. I find that it forces me to look at my own work with more scrutiny and to truly deliver my best effort every time, regardless of the task. Just one of the many lessons I’ve learned in the kitchen that (I feel) have made me a better person overall.
So thank you, Charlie Trotter. The culinary world is mourning your loss. Rest in peace.