Wednesday, November 06, 2013
"After Love there is only Cuisine" - Charlie Trotter
I don't idolize many people...it is not my thing...but I idolized him. Frankly there was a time when I kind of stalked him and then when the day came that I got to meet him, no words would come. He was pure genius. The epitome of the word "Chef". Please don't even compare even one of those TV personality chefs to him...well maybe Julia can have that respect but other than that...just don't...there is no comparison.
He single handedly change American fine dining forever, accepting only the very best from his staff and offering the diner the world. I know. I ate at Trotters twice. As close to perfection as perfection comes. He was one of those people that proves the very core of my belief system. That humans can achieve anything they set their mind to...no matter how difficult...if only they have the desire.
Charlie Trotter was entirely self taught, his studies were in political science but once he turn his mind toward cuisine, there was nothing else. He built himself up from an almost empty apartment with books on food on the floor. Who needs furniture when you have passion? He chose his direction and let nothing sway him from his destiny.
I remember being the first in line to have him sign my copy of his first cook book...I was positively shaking. I remember seeing him at a food events in Chicago and often times sort of hiding off to the side so I could really stare at him un interrupted. When you are a young chef in culinary school in Chicago you hear all the rumors of the yelling and intensity of his kitchen...somehow I loved the very thought of it but never thought I would be worthy.
The recipes in his cookbooks seemed insurmountable to me at one time but I just kept at it. The first time I was actually able to follow one to its end...I had really achieved something! through his books I have learned so much and now...I often refer to his books for my work. Even though now I have developed my own style, he absolutely helped shape it.
One of the very first things Patrick and I realized about each other upon first meeting is that we both shared an almost obsessive love for certain Chef Trotter. When the restaurant we were then working at won the Grand Award from Wine Spectator Magazine, Chef Trotter wrote us (the staff) a note of congratulations. A "welcome to the club", since he had one too. At the awards ceremony the restaurant manager was kind enough to get Chef Trotters signature for us. It hangs on our kitchen wall and reads "Ronna + Patrick After Love There is Only Cuisine! Charlie Trotter"
For our honeymoon, Patrick and I saved all our money and made a reservation at "Charlie Trotter's". We could afford no hotel so we slept on the floor of my girlfriends apartment. Walking into the restaurant was like a dream. I wore my vintage wedding gown and Patrick his cream colored three piece linen suit, also from our wedding. They knew it was our honeymoon and allowed us to have the kitchen menu even though we could not eat in the kitchen because you had to have a party of four to do that. We had 15 courses. Perfection. The staff never talked down to us but rather assisted in making our experience an unparalleled one. We were given a tour of the whole place after our dinner including the upstairs, the wine cellar, and the kitchen. I will never forget seeing the staff scouring down the kitchen from top to bottom like most places get once a year...and they did that every night.
We were treated as VIPs that night. As we were leaving I looked up and there, just beyond the door was Chef Trotter himself. I nearly fainted. I grabbed Patrick and showed him. He was there to say good night to us! We shook hands with him and I was mute! Patrick somehow managed to say it all to him...thanking him for the note and telling him of his influence on us. I think the words were just spilling out giving no room for conversation because when Patrick was done Chef Trotter said "well all right then..." and it was over.
We did get to eat there once more. While living in Minnesota, I had done a very good job while managing a kitchen and throwing a huge party for my boss and as a thank you he wanted to do something for me. I had a choice...either a spa weekend in Northern Minnesota or he would send Patrick and I to Chicago, put us up and send us out for dinner at what ever restaurant I wanted. I said "What ever restaurant I want....?" Then I made him promise not to get mad when he saw the bill at the restaurant and picked the Chicago trip. It was another dream date at Charlie Trotters. Perfection. These two meals were hands down ...not only the best meals I have ever eaten but the best service I have ever had at any restaurant in my life.
My heart is heavy today. I want to thank you Chef Trotter. Thank you for being such a powerful and positive force in my life and the lives of so many chefs. You have changed our world and will not be forgotten.