Renowned Chicago Chef Charlie Trotter Dead at 54: "He Strove for Perfection," Says Valley Tastemaker Christopher Gross

The culinary world lost one of its titans today when famed chef Charlie Trotter, whose eponymous Chicago restaurant was regarded as one of the country's finest, was found dead in his apartment.

Trotter was 54 years old.

A self-taught chef, Trotter opened his Armitage Avenue restaurant, Charlie Trotter's, in 1987. His creative passion and drive quickly earned him a reputation as one of the country's (and world's) culinary leaders. In 1999, he was given the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Chef. One year later, Wine Spectator magazine named Charlie Trotter's the best restaurant in the country.

The news of Trotter's death shocked many in the food world, including Valley tastemaker Christopher Gross, chef and owner of Christopher's and Crush Lounge, who cooked with Trotter on several occasions, both at Charlie Trotter's and at various culinary events throughout the country.

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"I first met him at a cooking event around 1997," Gross tells me. "He was an up-and-coming chef then, a super-nice guy -- a little intense. We talked a lot about foie gras."

Gross goes on to say that when he visited the famed chef's Chicago restaurant for an event, Trotter was on top of every single detail and extremely precise with how he wanted things done.

"If a sauce was off -- if a server picked up the plate at angle -- it went into the trash."

One of Gross' more humorous memories of Trotter was when he went out to eat with him.

"I knew he was a gymnast of sorts, so I asked if he was still fit. He got up from his chair and started walking on his hands in the middle of the dining room."

Gross adds that Trotter was also fanatical about learning new things, researching and seeking out new techniques, flavor combinations, and ingredients that he could incorporate into his cuisine. When he put out his first cookbook, Gross says, Trotter told him he got to do something that only happens in the movies.

"He told me he was at the printer's and didn't like the way something looked so he shouted, 'Stop the presses!'"

Gross says he always had fun with Trotter and especially enjoyed cooking in Charlie Trotter's "wonderful kitchen."

"He was intense, a little eccentric maybe, but he strove for perfection. He'll be missed."

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