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Charlie Trotter–Chef Series

by Karen on April 11th, 2012

I have had this in my to-do pile for quite some time…..

…..but today is the day to post it….I was inspired by a somewhat negative article in the New York Times.

Within the past year or so, I began revisiting the various chefs who were way ahead of the gluten free curve back in 2000 when the timeless recipes of my book were compiled.  Each chef generously scaled down a recipe or two from their restaurant and contributed to Cooking Gluten-Free! long before gluten free was a top trend.

Last year gluten free was the #1 restaurant trend, many chefs have thankfully joined the bandwagon providing gluten free food.  I am so grateful for that but I also want to celebrate those pioneering chefs who have been there all along.

Today the NYT has a feature about Charlie Trotter but as I read it I couldn’t get over the “he’s so yesterday” theme of the article.  All I could think of while reading it was how much I have recently enjoyed dining at a number of long-standing Seattle area restaurants that might also be so accused of being from an earlier era. (exactly the reason for their success)

I would like to know —What is wrong with quality food, prepared well, served in a classic environment (maybe with a little piano music in the background), with attentive, professional wait staff?  ….you get the picture.  And of course they have always known how to do gluten free.

Canlis, El Gaucho, and The Herbfarm

In Seattle, I have had the good fortune to dine in the past 6 months at Canlis, El Gaucho-twice, and The Herbfarm. Each restaurant can claim top notch service, food, environment, and a night to remember. I could also dress like Audrey Hepburn and feel quite at home or wear the most current stylish dress for that matter.

Vintage Canlis rendering

There is nothing wrong with visiting yesterday when it is this elegant and enjoyable.

Interior of Canlis

Could it be that Charlie Trotter is closing in August because he is just ready for a new challenge?  Why did the writer have to suggest that he was closing because she (and/or her friends) thought he hadn’t kept up with the times? Sure it is fun to try new cuisine, but the classic establishments are classic for a reason…..excellent consistent food.

It is highly unusual for me to go to such high-end restaurants so frequently but I completely appreciate that our Seattle icon restaurants are still here.  As a matter of fact El Gaucho hasn’t even been around that long, they just created an environment reminiscent of yesterday—go figure.  This past Saturday night, every table was full and lively at El Gaucho, though in our economy I am sure they have experienced a downturn just like everyone else.

While I haven’t dined at Charlie Trotter’s I can only imagine that it must be a similar experience.

I am glad that the author talked about Charlie Trotter giving back to the community, Chicago should be so lucky if he continues to do so once the restaurant closes.

Here is the post that has been sitting in draft form on my computer for the past year.  I hope you have the chance to “go back in time” one night in the near future to a classic restaurant for a memorable meal!!!!

Charlie Trotter—Chef Series

Chef Charlie Trotter, attention to detail

The next chef in our series has been recognized at the highest culinary levels with awards from Relais Gourmand and a total of ten James Beard Awards (yes that is 10!) Through the years he has received many other recognitions of excellence.  Charlie Trotter  has influenced the national culinary landscape for the past 24 years.  I feel incredibly lucky that he contributed recipes early in the production of Cooking Gluten-Free!   His generosity made it possible for me to work with many other well-known chefs. This year I decided to revisit the many talented chefs that helped to make the book possible I wanted to see where they are today, knowing I would discover some interesting stories in the process.

Charlie’s awards speak volumes, but what impresses me is his commitment to high school students and aspiring culinary students through The Charlie Trotter Culinary Education Foundation.

The Program has two main priorities: awarding scholarships to students who are seeking careers in the culinary arts and working with Chicago-area youth to promote the enthusiastic quest for education as well as an interest in the cooking and food.   To date the foundation has donated over 1 million dollars to many individual students wishing to pursue a culinary career.

I recently had the opportunity to teach gluten free cooking classes in a local culinary programs’ kitchens during the off hours which allowed me to meet a few of the enrolled students.  Scholarship funding is critical for many students.  The classes are grueling, the hours long, and students have to pay their bills while learning a new trade.  During the last few years of a difficult economy, the scholarships that Trotter’s foundation provides have probably made a huge difference in the lives of many students, hats off to Charlie!

The foundations’ high school student program is truly unique.  An unprecedented three times a week Charlie Trotter’s hosts dinners for Chicago area high school students where they tour the restaurant, dine, meet the staff, and learn about food, organic farming, and etiquette.  This is exactly the kind of thing that many high school students need.  It introduces them to a whole new world and inspires them to think of their lives in a new way and gives them a connection to the world of food.

From the foundation program, Charlie has even hired a student to work in the restaurant who is blind, she operates completely through touch, a truly incredible story (the link to this story on Fox is now broken).

A lovely meal in Cooking Gluten-Free!  from Charlie Trotter is Sautéed Salmon with Caramelized Onion-Strewn Grits and Portobello Mushroom-Red Wine Sauce. This is a great meal to prepare on the weekend for dinner guests.  The earthy flavors are a perfect match with an Oregon Pinot Noir.  Here is a good one to try, though extravagant: 2008 Pinot Noir Cristom Louise Vineyard

If you are planning a trip to Chicago, plan in advance and book a reservation at Charlie Trotter’s.  A memorable weekend in Chicago would include a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a Cubs game, and dinner at Charlie Trotter’s!

Well that was my post and since I actually wrote it quite some time ago it is worth mentioning again that the restaurant closes in August so a reservation midweek might be the best plan.






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