The culinary world mourns the loss of legendary chef, Charlie Trotter, 54, who was found dead Tuesday in his Chicago home.
Diagnosed with an inoperable brain aneurysm, Trotter had spent the last year disassembling much of his extensive empire, including his internationally touted restaurant, Charlie Trotter’s, opened in 1987.
Charlie Trotter’s was known for the tasting menu concept which incorporated a series of small portioned plates, often paired with fine wines. His unique approach to dining excellence, where money was no object, attracted a loyal following and succeeded in securing Chicago’s spot on the world map of acclaimed restaurant towns.
Although self-trained, Trotter’s often unconventional approach to food preparation was focused on a commitment to sustainability and the American farm-to-table movement, thus carving out an early niche in the emerging ‘counter culture’ food experience. He cultivated an expansive network of producers to support his approach―which included rarified or lesser known products such as foie gras. His food philosophy extended to innovative food preparations that celebrated each ingredient’s intrinsic qualities and opened the door to the adoption of a lighter breed of complementary sauces.
[As a note here, in Trotter’s embrace of seasonality and honoring the purity of foods, one of his quirky attributes was never to repeat a dish twice. I completely support his approach, even in a busy kitchen. It may be a difficult policy for staff to follow, but it is essential when food quality is the primary consideration.]
Over the years, the restaurant received many awards including Forbes Five Star award, Wine Spectator’s ‘Best Restaurant in the World for Wine & Food’ (1998) and America’s Best Restaurant (2000), plus 11 James Beard Foundation awards, including ‘Outstanding Restaurant’ (2000), ‘Outstanding Chef’ (1999), and ‘Humanitarian of the Year’ (2012) to Charlie Trotter. Trotter also received the prestigious International Association of Culinary professional (IACP) Humanitarian of the Year Award. His PBS cooking show, The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter, was awarded Best National Cooking Show by the James Beard Foundation.
For the memory book, here is an example of Charlie Trotter’s unique food style along with a few comments in his own words, thanks to Leite’s Culinaria.
Olive Oil-Poached Cod with Roasted Tomatoes and Broccoli Rabe
Poaching in oil may sound like it would produce oil-soaked fish, but it actually seals in the juices and results in tender, moist fillets. It is a good cooking technique for firmer fish such as cod, sword-fish, or salmon. The key is for the oil to be warm, but not hot. Keep the thermometer in the oil as the fish is cooking, and adjust the heat to maintain a temperature of 110°F (43°C) to 115°F (46°C). If you cannot find broccoli rabe, you may substitute one small head of broccoli.–Charlie Trotter
3 large tomatoes
3 garlic cloves
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 sprigs thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch broccoli rabe, cleaned and blanched
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Four 5-ounce cod fillets, skinned
1 teaspoon fresh tiny green basil leaves
1 teaspoon fresh tiny purple basil leaves
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Blanch the tomatoes in the boiling water for 30 seconds and then peel off the skins. Cut each tomato into 8 wedges, place in a small roasting pan, and toss lightly with the garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and thyme. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the tomatoes are soft.
2. Remove the tomatoes from the pan, season to taste with salt and pepper, and keep warm. Strain the cooking liquid through a fine-mesh sieve and season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm.
3. Cook the broccoli rabe in the butter in a small saute pan over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until warm. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Warm the 2 cups olive oil in a medium saucepan over a very low flame to 110°F (43°C). Season both sides of the fish with salt and pepper and place in the warm oil. The oil should cover the fish. Cook for 3 minutes, turn the fish over, and cook for an additional 3 minutes, or until just done.
5. Place some of the roasted tomatoes in the center of each plate and top with a piece of fish. Arrange the broccoli rabe around the plate and drizzle the tomato cooking liquid and the 1 tablespoon olive oil over the fish and around the plate. Garnish with tiny green and purple basil.
Olive Oil-Poached Cod with Roasted Tomatoes and Broccoli Rabe Recipe © 2008 Charlie Trotter. Photo © 2008 Kipling Swehla. All rights reserved.