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Charlie Trotter Defends Himself in Art Flap: 'No Good Deed Goes Unpunished'

By Janet Rausa Fuller | August 30, 2013 4:48pm
 A group of After School Matters students are claiming Charlie Trotter kicked them out of his restaurant, which he had offered up as a gallery space.
Charlie Trotter
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LINCOLN PARK — All Charlie Trotter wanted was a quick sweeping up of "four leaves and two cigarette butts" out front and a "wipe around the rim of the toilets."

That, the world-famous chef said Friday, is all he asked of a group of high school students setting up Thursday for a photography show in his now-shuttered Lincoln Park restaurant.

Trotter defended his actions to DNAinfo Chicago Friday after being accused late Thursday by the students of booting them out of the restaurant, angry that their instructor refused to comply with his request.

"All I did was ask them to sweep some stuff up. Like, 'Hey let's get this ready. This is your show.' The place is already pretty spotless," Trotter said. "I think the instructor was thinking I was trying to take advantage of the students."

According to Trotter, the students were "like fine, OK, no problem. But it was the instructor who said, 'You can't tell these artists to do this.' "

Video of Trotter trying to leave the restaurant Thursday night showed him telling a WGN-TV reporter, "Should I do an Alec Baldwin or what?" before turning and going back inside.

A frustrated Trotter said Friday he felt unfairly vilified, especially with the camera crew that surprised him Thursday night and more cameras camped outside his home and the restaurant Friday.

"That's why Sean Penn and Alec Baldwin beat the crap out of the paparazzi. And I'm not even that famous. I'm not looking for trouble," said Trotter, who said there were more important stories to cover. "Shouldn't these guys be on the South Side looking at black-on-black crime?"

Trotter had agreed to host the pop-up gallery for After School Matters, the nonprofit created by the late Maggie Daley, for which he serves on the advisory board.

One student told the Sun-Times the chef called him a "f------ idiot" because the student didn't ask Trotter if he wanted anything from a nearby convenience store.

"What would I possibly get to drink at the 7-11?" Trotter said Friday, later adding, "I don't know anything about that."

Another student told the Sun-Times Trotter asked her if she was going to get a "Charlie Trotter's" tattoo.

"You know me well enough," Trotter told DNAinfo Chicago. "That's not the way I roll."

Trotter asked the group to leave, which they did, their artwork and equipment still inside the restaurant. Students returned Friday to pick up their belongings; Trotter was not there to greet them.

After School Matters, in a statement, chalked up the incident to "unforeseen circumstances" at the site.

"We regret the disappointment and confusion this situation has caused our students and their families, and we are working to reschedule the exhibit at another date, time and location in the near future."

Trotter figures he's donated about $50,000 to After School Matters.

"I have no agenda here. I'm trying to help these kids," he said. "Next thing you know, I'm in hot water."

The restaurant and the adjoining building, which housed his studio kitchen and office, are for sale. Trotter said he's had "five or six" offers from buyers.

He has held a few dinners there since closing the restaurant last year and figures he'll host more until the property sells.

But for now, he said, "No good deed goes unpunished. I'm done with it.

"I've gotta move to the Yukon."

Contributing: Erica Demarest