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Charlie Trotter Remembered as a 'Chicago Original' at Memorial

By DNAinfo Staff on November 11, 2013 11:36am

 A memorial service for chef Charlie Trotter was held at Fourth Presbyterian Church Monday morning.
Charlie Trotter Memorial
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CHICAGO — Hundreds of friends, family and people wearing chef's whites attended the public memorial honoring the life of famed chef Charlie Trotter, who was dubbed a "Chicago original" during the service.

"Charlie Trotter was one of a kind. Most famous chefs are journeymen who come to a city from somewhere else, to make their name and make their mark," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said during the service. "Not Charlie. He was born here. He made his mark here. And he is remembered here, fondly."

Emanuel noted several similarities between himself and the famed chef — credited with putting Chicago on the culinary map — during the Monday morning service at Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut St.

 Chef Charlie Trotter died on Nov. 5, 2013, at the age of 54.
Remembering Charlie Trotter
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Others in attendance included world-renown French chef Daniel Boulud; Boston celebrity chef Todd English, known for his restaurant, Olives; chef Matthias Merges, known for many restaurants in Chicago, including Yusho, and the newly opened A10.

Also at the service were chefs Emeril Lagasse, of Food Network fame; Thomas Keller, who owns The French Laundry in the Napa Valley; and David Myers, who once worked for Trotter and now has his own restaurant empire based out of Los Angeles.

Like the mayor, Trotter was a "Chicago original" said the Rev. Calum MacLeod, who officiated the service.

Emanuel said both graduated from north suburban New Trier High School in 1977 and both had "slightly, I say slightly, in-your-face styles."

The mayor also credited Trotter with turning a town house at 816 W. Armitage Ave., where Trotter opened his famed eponymous restaurant in 1987, into an "international destination in the culinary world."

"No one who walked into Charlie Trotter's walked out unsatisfied," Emanuel said. "Each visit was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Charlie never produced the same dish twice."

Trotter died after he was found unresponsive at his Lincoln Park home Wednesday. Autopsy reports have been inconclusive ,and further tests were ordered. There are no signs of foul play, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office.

Trotter's sister, Anne Trotter Hinkamp, said her brother wanted to become a chef during his time at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he worked at a restaurant where waiters dressed as monks.

When his parents visited, his sister said he cooked dinner for them. The first time, it was spaghetti. The second time, lasagna. The third time, smoked salmon with spinach soufflé.

With that last dish, "they knew he was serious," Hinkamp said.

Hinkamp said that restaurant was a "family restaurant," initially opened as a partnership between the chef and his father, who died in 1993.

"It was a family restaurant to us, and we felt anybody who worked there or were regulars was family," Hinkamp said of the restaurant, which was closed last year.

One of those "family members" attending the service was Debbie Gold, a James Beard Award-winning chef from Kansas City, who donned her chef's whites and lined up to honor the man and employer who started her culinary career.

She worked every line at Charlie Trotter's, including pastries, the first two years after it opened.

"It's amazing the sort of culture he created across the culinary world," Gold said.

Stephanie Leese Emrich, who has worked as a concierge at several Downtown restaurants and knew Trotter, said she had sent "hundreds of guests" to eat at his restaurant, where she dined more than 20 years ago for the first time.

During the first of three visits to the restaurant, she met Trotter at the front door, where he told her his favorite drink was Gatorade. She returned to the restaurant the next day to give him a case of Gatorade, and the two had been friends since.

"Now he's in heaven, cooking up a storm," Leese Emrich said.