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Charlie Trotter's Death Shocks Culinary World

By DNAinfo Staff | November 5, 2013 1:01pm
 Admirers left flowers on the steps of Charlie Trotter's former restaurant after news of his death broke Tuesday.
Admirers left flowers on the steps of Charlie Trotter's former restaurant after news of his death broke Tuesday.
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DNAinfo/Darryl Holliday

CHICAGO — Just minutes after news of acclaimed chef Charlie Trotter's death broke, chefs and foodies from all over the world took to social media to mourn a culinary icon.

The 54-year-old was found at his Lincoln Park home Tuesday morning and was taken in critical condition to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, fire officials said.

There were no signs of foul play, according to police.

Celebrity chef Atul Kochhar tweeted Tuesday that they lost a hero.

Longtime Chicago magazine food writer Jeff Ruby tweeted "I can't believe I am typing these words," before sharing the news. 

"Today we mourn the loss of a Chicago culinary legend," Fireside restaurant in Ravenswood tweeted.

Matthias Merges, in an interview with DNAinfo Chicago, said his boss of 14 years was a game changer.

"It's a shock," said  Merges, who was his second-in-command. "We could never devalue the enormity of what he accomplished and the changes he made to the face of American cuisine, and I think even though he had his own issues, the greatness of what the restaurant was trumps it all."

Merges left Trotter's and the fine-dining world to open Yusho, serving Japanese street-food; the cocktail bar Billy Sunday, and his newest restaurant, A10. Trotter's influence is in all three, Merges said.

"What was most innovative was this new way of thinking about food and service and restaurants in general," Merges said. "It's like an undying fire, to really create an experience for clients that transcends mediocrity. It's something we've always tried for."

Homaro Cantu of moto and iNG said of Trotter's influence: "I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't be married to my wife if it hadn't been for Charlie Trotter," said Cantu, who was a cook when his now-wife did a one-day guest-chef stint at the restaurant, a gift from a friend.

Both Cantu and Merges recalled Trotter's incredible drive and pursuit of perfection that put him ahead of his time.

In 1987, Trotter opened Charlie Trotter's, a restaurant that became known as one of the world's best, earning a two-star Michelin rating before he closed it in August 2012.

Trotter won a number of awards from the James Beard Foundation, including best chef in the Midwest in 1992, the nation's outstanding chef award in 1999, the nation's outstanding restaurant in 2000. In 2000, he also was awarded Best National Television Cooking Show for "The Kitchen Sessions, with Charlie Trotter."

Read more reactions to Trotter's death here: