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Charlie Trotter, Chicago Restaurateur, TV Chef, Dies at 54

Chef Charlie Trotter
Chef Charlie Trotter is seen in this October 2004 file photograph. Trotter, a Chicago-based restaurateur and chef, has died at the age of 54. Photographer: Mychal Watts/WireImage for Gourmet Magazine via Getty Images

Charlie Trotter, the Chicago chef and philanthropist who helped usher American diners into an era of tasting menus and mandatory service charges, has died. He was 54.

He died yesterday in Chicago, Frank Shuftan, a spokesman for the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office, said in a telephone interview. An autopsy found no signs of trauma or foul play, he said today in an e-mail. A final report is pending.

“We are incredibly shocked and deeply saddened by the unexpected loss of Charlie at our home in Lincoln Park,” Trotter’s wife, Rochelle, said in a statement. “He was much loved, and words cannot describe how much he will be missed.”

She called her husband “a trailblazer” who “introduced people to a new way of dining.”

The chef closed Charlie Trotter’s, his townhouse restaurant in Chicago’s Lincoln Park district, after a 25-year run in September 2012, citing plans to enter the University of Chicago to study philosophy. The restaurant won 11 James Beard Foundation Awards and other honors including Wine Spectator magazine’s “America’s Best Restaurant” for 2000. Trotter also opened restaurants in Las Vegas and in Los Cabos, Mexico, which also closed.

He wrote more than a dozen cookbooks and hosted “The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter” on PBS.

Menu Prices

Trotter was among the first chefs to serve extravagant, multi-course meals at a single price, James Beard Foundation president Susan Ungaro said in 2012, according to the Associated Press.

His restaurant charged $195 for its tasting menu, or $150 for its sampling of vegetables, not including an 18 percent service fee. Meals would consist of eight or more courses, though the chef’s goal was more to sate than to stuff.

“I do not want guests walking out of the restaurant feeling as if they over-indulged because of excessive cream, butter and alcohol,” Trotter wrote on his restaurant’s website. “I want them to feel stimulated and alert, knowing they will be able to look forward to breakfast the following morning.”

Trotter’s philanthropy ranged from feeding the poor in the restaurant’s neighborhood to making dishes for fundraisers hosted by nonprofits such as the Make-a-Wish Foundation and Meals on Wheels Chicago. His Charlie Trotter Culinary Education Foundation has raised more than $3 million for students seeking culinary careers.

During its final decade of operating, Trotter saw younger Chicago chefs and restaurateurs like Grant Achatz of Alinea overtake the culinary spotlight. Trotter’s had two Michelin stars; Alinea had and still has three.

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