Charlie Trotter, Famed Chicago Chef, Is Dead At 54

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Charlie Trotter, one of Chicago's most famous chefs and restaurateurs, died today at the age of 54, according to multiple reports. The chef was found at home by his son, who called an ambulance to his residence. Trotter's death was confirmed by the Cook County medical examiner's office.

The chef was best known for his namesake Lincoln Park restaurant, which he closed a little over a year ago. It had been a dining destination since it opened in 1987 on Armitage Avenue, offering multi-course tasting menus that were then popular in Europe but little known here. Trotter quickly made a name for himself for his intense creativity, use of exquisite ingredients (as well as eye-popping prices), and refusing to repeat dishes on his menus.

The James Beard Foundation named him Outstanding Chef in 1999, and many other awards and accolades followed, as well as acolytes. Superior Chicago chefs Graham Elliot, Giuseppe Tentori, Michael Carlson, and Grant Achatz have all done time in Trotter's kitchen.

Though Trotter tried to replicate his success elsewhere several times, it never quite worked out. He had planned to open an outpost in Manhattan's Time Warner Center — which houses top-tier restaurants including Per Se, Masa, and A Voce — but ultimately pulled out. A Mexico-based restaurant closed after five years, and other prospective restaurants in New York and Chicago fell through.

Trotter was known as something of a taskmaster in the kitchen. "Though he can be genial and very funny," wrote The New York Times in 2011, "he has never been able to shake his label as a tyrant of fine dining." At the time, Chef Elliot said, "I wanted to quit every day I worked [at Charlie Trotter's], but I’m proud that I got through it, and in some ways I look at Charlie as my father."

Speaking today to the Chicago Tribune, Elliot echoed those same feelings. "Charlie was an extreme father figure to me when it came to not just cooking, but life, and seeing things in a different way," he said. "I just can’t put into words how saddened I am by all of this. It’s a huge loss, not just personally, but for the culinary world." (Chicago Tribune)