Charlie Trotter, the chef who transformed the Chicago dining scene, is closing his namesake restaurant this year after a quarter-century in the trenches.
Trotter, a self-taught chef who travelled widely and learned his trade by working in established kitchens, opened his restaurant in 1987. With financial backing from his father, he was able to purchase the building at 816 West Armitage that bears his name. He was instrumental in changing the image of Chicago dining from a meat-and-potatoes scene to one of the most creative hotbeds of cutting-edge cuisine in the country. The wine cellar contains 1800 selections and has received the Wine Spectator Grand Award, largely due to the foundation laid by opening sommelier Larry Stone. The exact date of the closing hasn’t been specified, but most people assume it will coincide with the 25th anniversary on August 17.
Along the way, Trotter mentored many of today’s most popular Chicago cooking talents such as Grant Achatz, Bill Kim and Mindy Segal. In recent years, though, some of his protégées had begun to eclipse him—notably Achatz, who opened Alinea in 2005, garnered three Michelin stars to Trotter’s two, and has been widely regarded as one of the most creative chefs in America. Some observers also criticized Trotter’s fondness for serving organ meats, a practice he has retreated from in recent years. The restaurant currently serves only three tasting menus: the Grand Menu ($165 per person), a Vegetable Menu ($135), and a Kitchen Table Menu served only to diners at the chef’s table ($225).
Trotter claims that business is fine—he simply wants to branch out and do other things. He says he will enter graduate school and pursue a degree in philosophy and political theory, after which he will open another restaurant. Either way, 25 years is a remarkable achievement.