Remembering Charlie Trotter
Photos from "The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter." Above, Trotter with Sari Zernich (now executive director for chef Art Smith's self-named company) and Mathias Merges (now owner of A10 and Yusho)
Charlie Trotter, legendary Chicago chef, died last week at age 54. While his namesake restaurant was based in a suburb outside of Chicago, his culinary influence spread across the U.S. His ties to Hawaii were strong—he frequently visited, featured Hawaii products such as ahi and hearts of palm on his menu, and his cooking show, "The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter," was produced by a Hawaii production company. Melanie Kosaka, who now runs Cookspace, produced the television series, for which she won a James Beard Award. Below, she reflects on Trotter's impact:
I met Charlie when I was producing "New American Cuisine," a PBS series featuring star chefs from around the U.S., and Charlie was one of the featured chefs. I guess he liked the production, and asked if we would be interested in producing a cooking series with him. I thought of the name "The Kitchen Sessions" because Charlie was big into “cooking in the moment” and improvising, and this was sort of a nod to the Chicago jazz scene and Blue Note Records. Much later, I found out he was named after Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis was one of his biggest heroes.
It’s funny—or maybe weird—I’ve been thinking about Charlie a lot lately (before he died). He changed the American dining scene, not from San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York City, but from the Midwest, in a pre-gentrified neighborhood outside of downtown Chicago. Not easy! The formula of celeb chef, plus community, plus local, organic farmers, now seems overly stated. Charlie was supporting schools in Lincoln Park, helping local and Midwest farmers, way before it was de rigueur. He was into raw and vegetarian menus more than 15 years ago. I hope Charlie will be remembered for how far ahead of his time he was, and for his legacy.