As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I did not know Charlie Trotter personally. However, because he had mentored so many chefs who have been guests on The Dinner Party, I feel like I knew him.
My only run-in with Charlie went like this: We were seated at the kitchen table at the eponymous restaurant and Charlie walked up to one of the chefs cooking wildly and tasted what he was plating. "Do you have salt at your station?" he demanded. The man nodded quickly in the affirmative. "Then use it!" he exclaimed. I remember being awe-struck at the determination for excellence, at the passion that demanded that the food, every night, reach new heights.
That story has stayed with me since 2000, and I repeat it often. It says so much about how one man, through sheer creative force and will, can change how a nation views food. Charlie Trotter influenced and mentored so many and raised the culinary bar for restaurateurs all over the United States. Before there was Homaro Cantu and before there was Curtis Duffy, there was Charlie Trotter, paving the way for culinary creativity and chefs as artists for years to come.
I am grateful to have been affected by the passion and drive that was Charlie Trotter. As his sister Anne noted during the memorial service last year, Charlie felt that "If you are willing to work hard enough, no obstacle is too big to overcome." She ended by saying of her childhood with Charlie, "He raised us to levels of greatness that he saw we had within us, levels we never imagined were within our reach and that we never imagined were possible." Charlie Trotter did that for so many chefs and restaurateurs and our culinary experiences in American cuisine have never been the same. For this, we are forever in his debt.
The State of Illinois and The City of Chicago agree. August 17, the anniversary of the opening of Charlie Trotter's restaurant, has been proclaimed Charlie Trotter Day by The State of Illinois and The City of Chicago. On Saturday, August 16 and Sunday, August 17, The Trotter Project invites chefs and diners across America to commemorate the opening of the infamous Charlie Trotter's restaurant and celebrate his lasting legacy through support of The Trotter Project.
In the spirit of giving back and in honor of Charlie's incredible vision and values that inspired thousands of alumni, guests, family and friends, The Trotter Project creates a series of charitable initiatives and programs centered around the culinary arts, service, education and excellence.
Restaurant operators across America can be a part of the Charlie Trotter Day festivities in two simple steps:
• Create a Charlie Trotter-inspired dish to offer on the menu on August 16 and August 17
• Donate the proceeds from that dish to The Trotter Project
If you are a chef or restaurateur who would like additional information, you can contact The Trotter Project at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are a foodie -- and who in Chicago isn't? -- you may also be interested in the Charlie Trotter Project's first event, Savour, held in participation with The Grant Park Conservancy as the opening night fundraiser of the Windy City Wine Festival, now in its tenth year.
So, you will see me at Savour and you will see me eating a lot of Charlie Trotter inspired dishes the weekend of August 16 and 17! I look forward celebrating Charlie Trotter and supporting The Charlie Trotter Project, and what better way than by eating some of the best food from participating restaurants around the city. Cheers, Charlie. Cheers!