I never know what I’m going to do: That’s been my story my whole life. I make it up as I go. After I graduated college in 1982, I thought I’d really like to work at a restaurant. I got a job in the Chicago area. I thought I was the luckiest guy in the world. About three years into it, I took a six-month trip to Europe and made it to Frédy Girardet [in Switzerland], which was maybe the best restaurant in all of Europe. It was a crystallizing experience for me. That’s when I realized this is the kind of restaurant I would like to open, something where everything was attended to with extreme and meticulous detail. So I returned home and set about opening Charlie Trotter’s.
Since I was bold enough to put my name on the front door, people more or less expect me to be here. I’ve always been envious of artists like Miles Davis or Bob Dylan. Miles Davis would say, “I want there to be some Japanese influence in my music,” and he could move to Tokyo for a year. Bob Dylan could move to Europe for six months. With what I do, I’m a little locked in.