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Photography by Paul Elledge

Say It Ain’t So!

by Lisa Shames | Men's Book Chicago magazine | March 15, 2012

It’s not the first time chef Charlie Trotter has joked about walking away from his eponymous restaurant with a bang. Five years ago, when his Lincoln Park temple to fine dining and innovation reached its 20-year mark, he teased that after the star-studded celebration dinner wrapped up he was going to set off some strategically placed dynamite, jump into his car and head west.

Now, five years later, he’s not joking. Well, at least when it comes to closing the restaurant, which will serve its last meal on Aug. 31 (we’ll have to wait until then to see about the “bang” part). After a quarter of a century, the self-taught chef, who’s been the driving force behind some of the city’s most cutting-edge culinary trends—degustation menus, sous vide, vegetable-focused plates, local ingredients, chef’s kitchen table—has decided to head back to school to pursue a master’s degree in political theory and philosophy, read the “great books” and do some major traveling with his new wife, Rochelle. “I need to find other outlets to sink my energies into. ‘He not busy being born is busy dying,’” says Trotter, 52, quoting a Bob Dylan song.

He’ll be plenty busy in the next few months, finishing his 16th cookbook and hosting special dinners. And in May he’ll be in NYC picking up the 2012 James Beard Foundation Humanitarian of the Year award for his philanthropic achievements.

So, after all these years in the limelight, is there anything that might surprise people about him? “My reputation as a badass character,” he says. “There’s a much kinder, gentler Charlie that actually exists.”

Trotter’s Hots
Baha’i Temple, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, Mr. Beef, W.C. Fields, Breakout Kings, Mustique Island, my wife’s intellect, “very” great wine

Trotter’s Nots
Tanning salons, stinginess, the casualization of America, snakes, litterers, Daily Kos, preachiness