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Trotter, a celebrated chef - and mercurial

In August chef Charlie Trotter walks back his restaurant after reporters asked for comment about student phoexhibit.  |

In August, chef Charlie Trotter walks back to his restaurant after reporters asked for comment about the student photo exhibit. | Alex Wroblewski~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 7, 2013 6:27AM

The controversial but celebrated career of mercurial chef Charlie Trotter was capped with several unfavorable headlines since closing his Lincoln Park Restaurant in August of last year.

About 12 weeks after his eatery closed, Trotter shoved aside an auctioneer who was not fetching top dollar for the items in his eatery that went on the block.

“Are you kidding me? I mean, I’ll f------ buy them myself,” he said of several framed pictures to a group of bidders who’d crowded into his restaurant and seemed unsure how to react.

On August 29 — two days shy of the one year anniversary of closing his restaurant — Trotter booted a group of teenage photography students from his then-vacant restaurant after initially agreeing to let the group — all high school students from the After School Matters program — use the space for a photography exhibit.

Trotter became offended when their instructor refused to order his students to sweep floors and plunge toilets, according to one of the students. Several students also said Trotter swore at them and used other offensive language.

Trotter sat on the After School Matters advisory board at the time, and was a member at the time of his death. After the incident, After School Matters issued a statement attributing the episode to “unforeseen circumstances at the site.”

Also earlier this year, two wine collectors sued Trotter for allegedly selling them an expensive, and phony, bottle of wine.

Bekim and Ilir Frrokaj, wine collectors from New York, claim they paid Trotter $46,227.40 for the fake bottle of 1945 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti.

Those who knew him saw changes recently.

A longtime Trotter pal and major Chicago restaurateur tells the Sun-Times, “Charlie did seem to go through a number of changes over the past couple of years. It seemed like he was resentful he was no longer ‘in the loop’ on our restaurant scene, even though it was his choice to get out of the business.

“I got the sense he was no longer in the limelight. . . . However, the last time we spoke, he did seem excited about going back to school and was intrigued about what the next chapter in his life would bring.

“Sadly, that won’t happen now.”

Trotter had said publicly he planned go back to school to study philosophy and political theory.

A second source, who also knew Trotter very well and asked for anonymity, added, “I couldn’t understand it. Charlie lately seemed more on edge, more antsy than even when he had the restaurant. . . . Couldn’t figure that out. . . . I wonder if he had second thoughts about closing the restaurant and getting away from it all.”

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