November 5th marked one year since the sudden passing of culinary legend Charlie Trotter. To honor Chef Trotter and to raise money for the Charlie Trotter Culinary Education Foundation, Charlie’s wife, Rochelle Trotter hosted A Toast to Charlie Trotter. The event featured food and wine pairings from chefs, mixologists, and sommeliers who each had a personal connection to Charlie.
I had a chance to speak with Rochelle Trotter, who is one of the most bright and inspiring women I have met. She explained that she didn’t want to be sad on the anniversary of her husband’s passing – to as she describes the “Wine Cellar in the Sky” – instead she wanted to celebrate his life, his legacy, and to bring those who knew him together to benefit the Charlie Trotter Culinary Education Foundation. The foundation was created by Charlie Trotter in 1999 is devoted to giving need based scholarships to students to pursue culinary arts degrees.
Rochelle Trotter did not know that she was going to be heading the Charlie Trotter Culinary Education Foundation after her husband’s passing, but she took the surprise as a challenge and turned to friends with experience running charities and organizing fundraisers. She quickly learned that she needed to fundraise and that the best way to do was to host an event and to make it personal. She called her husband’s friends and colleagues asking them to participate in the event, and Charlie’s close friend, and godfather to their son, Chef Emeril Lagasse joined the event as Emcee.
In addition to including Charlie’s friends and colleagues in the event, Rochelle added many personal touches to the event. The DJ was the same who played at Rochelle and Charlie’s wedding, and many of the same songs from their wedding were played. Each chef station featured photos of that chef with Charlie showing them working away in kitchens together. A Toast to Charlie Trotter beautifully honored a chef who completely changed the industry and the city of Chicago. Not only was Charlie a star, many culinary stars came out of his kitchen.
Rick Bayless and Charlie Trotter were longtime friends. Chef Bayless explained that he and Charlie opened their restaurants just 6 months apart. It is incredible to think of how greatly both Chef Trotter and Chef Bayless contributed to making Chicago the culinary capital it is today. Chef Bayless is a man who seems to be everywhere. In the past 6 weeks I have seen him at Chicago Gourmet, Taste Talks, Macy’s, and A Toast to Charlie Trotter. I asked him how he does it all, and he explained that he has a fantastic team working for him that for that reason he can focus on the big things and events, instead of using his time focusing on daily tasks. He said that his energetic personality and endless curiosity are reasons why he says yes to so many opportunities. Chef Bayless prepared Grilled Eggplant with a Black Bean Sauce infused with Salsa Negra, Crispy Maitake Mushrooms, and Garden Greens. The eggplant had a nice meatiness to it, the black bean sauce had right the right amount of kick, while the mushrooms added a crisp texture.
There were two other dishes that everyone was talking about: the gnocchi and the burger. Chef Ryan Pitts of RL Restaurant prepared a Short Rib Bone Marrow Burger that could rival Au Cheval’s burger. The burger was made with braised short rib, bone marrow, and truffles. It was rich and tender, and the size was between a slider and a full burger.
Chef Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia created a Gnocchi with Brown Butter, Black Truffle, Parmigiano Reggiano, Preserved Lemon, and Anchovy. The citrus was a nice contrast to the richness of the brown butter and truffle. This dish can be found on Spiaggia’s dinner menu.
Chef Jacob Neminarz of Sugar Hills Bakery prepared a beautiful dessert table filled with macarons, opera cakes, tarts, and mini cheesecakes. I especially loved the opera cakes.
Mayor Rahm Emmanuel grew up with Charlie, and he says that it was Charlie who turned Chicago into the culinary capital it is today. Chef Trotter turned a Lincoln Park townhouse into a restaurant that people traveled from all around the world to visit.
A lively auction emceed by Lakisha and Jim Rose was a highlight of the evening raising a significant amount of money for the foundation. The food, wine, and cocktails at the event would have made Charlie Trotter proud. You can learn more about the Charlie Trotter Culinary Education Foundation by visiting their website.
First photo via Galdones Photography