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Charlie Trotter to Be Honored by Chicago Chefs Through The Trotter Project

By Janet Rausa Fuller | June 12, 2014 11:23am
 A group of chefs who worked for the late Charlie Trotter have formed the nonprofit The Trotter Project.
The Trotter Project
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LINCOLN PARK — The night chef Charlie Trotter died, dozens of his former employees gathered in front of the restaurant at 816 W. Armitage Ave. for a candlelight vigil.

The talk that evening turned to what more they could do to honor the legendary chef and what would happen to the buildings that housed his world-renowned restaurant, according to chef Homaro Cantu of the West Loop restaurant moto, who attended the vigil.

Cantu and other Trotter alumni came up with an answer: The Trotter Project, a nonprofit based out of the buildings on Armitage that will pick up the educational and charitable initiatives cut short by his death in November.

The chefs on Thursday announced the formation of the nonprofit, joined at the shuttered restaurant by Trotter's son, Dylan, and other family members and city officials.

Cantu is board chairman. Other chefs involved include 14-year Trotter's veteran Matthias Merges of Yusho and Billy Sunday in Logan Square and A10 in Hyde Park; Sari Zernich Worsham, executive director of the Art Smith Co., who will be vice president of programs for the new nonprofit; Giuseppe Tentori of GT Fish & Oyster in River North; and Trotter's longtime pastry chef Della Gossett, now at Spago Beverly Hills.

The Trotter Project is separate from the existing Charlie Trotter Culinary Education Foundation run by his widow, Rochelle Trotter, who is raising money to start an "institute of learning" in his name.

Trotter closed the restaurant in August 2012 after a 25-year run. He died of a stroke in November at age 54.

While his cuisine was well documented, his educational programs were less in the spotlight. His long-running Excellence Program awarded culinary scholarships to needy kids and brought high school students from across the city into the restaurant for white-tablecloth meals and lessons in excellence.

The Trotter Project will expand the program with the addition of an indoor farm, similar to what Cantu has built in his restaurant, as a vehicle for nutrition education.

"We're also going to align ourselves with grocery stores, churches and schools to help bring top-quality produce to underprivileged communities and food deserts," Cantu said.

Also in the works is what Cantu called a "revolutionary" digital reviewing and rating system for restaurants at all levels, from white-tablecloth to counter-service.

"Charlie was about solving problems. With this system, you'll be able to see data on The Trotter Project website in real time," Cantu said. "It's taking a slightly different approach to how we think about ratings. What Charlie really instilled in us is to look at something with a different perspective so we can improve it."

Cantu said renovation of the buildings on West Armitage was being overseen by noted Chicago architect Jordan Mozer, also an advisory board member of The Trotter Project.

The nonprofit's first fundraiser is Sept. 4, opening night of the Windy City Wine Festival. It will held at Buckingham Fountain with about 30 chefs, in partnership with the Grant Park Conservancy.

A fundraiser unrelated to The Trotter Project is planned for Sept. 27 at the Trump Hotel, 401 N. Wabash Ave., in conjunction with the food and wine festival Bon Appetit Presents Chicago Gourmet.

The $500-a-head, six-course dinner, benefiting the Charlie Trotter Culinary Education Foundation, will feature food from such chefs as Rick Bayless and Masaharu Morimoto and wines paired by four master sommeliers. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. June 20 at chicagogourmet.org.

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