Charlie Trotter all smiles as he closes one chapter of his life and opens the next
By JANET RAUSA FULLER August 30, 2012 11:16AM
Chef Charlie Trotter poses in the dining room of his restaurant at 816 W. Armitage in 2011. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times
Updated: October 1, 2012 5:48PM
Here’s a joke Charlie Trotter likes to tell from time to time: on the final night of service at his acclaimed restaurant, he will stand on the counter and announce that — just kidding! — he’s not closing after all.
That night is Friday. And his joke is just that.
After 25 years in business, the legendary chef will indeed close the Lincoln Park restaurant that redefined Chicago dining, so he can take a breather. He figures he needs about three years.
In that time, the 52-year-old chef plans to get a master’s degree — he’s deciding between Northwestern and University of Chicago and a winter or spring semester start — and travel the world with his wife, Rochelle. On their itinerary: Argentina, Portugal and places he’s keeping secret from her.
But first, a not-so-proper shindig. Furniture will be cleared to make way for tasting stations manned by chefs Graham Elliot, Bill Kim and Mindy Segal, all alumni of Trotter’s kitchen, as well as Koren Grieveson, formerly of avec, the Food Network’s Anne Burrell, and Reginald Watkins, Trotter’s first hire and longtime right-hand now working in New Orleans.
There will be jungle juice. Served in plastic cups. But “no grain alcohol or anything,” Trotter promises.
Since divulging his plans last New Year’s Eve, Trotter has been on a farewell tour of sorts, as have customers eager for one last chance to dine in the handsome townhouse at 816 W. Armitage. (Trotter has not decided what he’ll do with the building; he also owns the adjoining building, his studio kitchen.)
It ramped up with a $2,500-a-head dinner on Aug. 19, the actual anniversary of the restaurant, and the unveiling Thursday of a street sign in his name at Armitage and Dayton.
“It’s good to have your own street sign,” Trotter said. “That way, if you’re speeding down the street and a cop pulls you over, you can say, ‘But officer, this is my street!’” Again with the joking.
But he’s serious about this next phase. It will take him a few months and a team of about 10 employees to tie up all the loose ends of the business. Mayor Emanuel, a guest at the Aug. 19 dinner and again tonight, has asked him to write an op-ed to pitch to the New York Times on why Chicago is the greatest food city in America. Then, grad school can begin.
“Life’s too short,” Trotter said. “You can’t do the same thing for too long or your head will explode.”
Janet Rausa Fuller is a local free-lancer writer, and the former Food editor for the Chicago Sun-Times.