A Tribute to My Hero, Chef Charlie Trotter

Charlie Trotter and Lori Lynn

With Charlie Trotter
December 12, 1998
Chicago, Illinois

You are my hero… the one I always turn to for ultimate inspiration in the kitchen.
May you rest in peace, Chef.

Charlie Trotter's Kitchen Table

Dining at Charlie Trotter’s Kitchen Table
February 12, 2006

“I have a goal so lofty it’s almost embarrassing to talk about,” says Charlie. “And that’s to be the best restaurant in the world. But I want the amateur diner to enjoy the food as much as the connoisseur. There are eternal truths to be recognized, just as there are eternal harmonies in a Beethoven sonata. Ultimately, I want to prepare food that will be recognized equally in Tokyo, London, and Paris. I am after that universality, that transcendence.”

Charlie Trotter's Kitchen

I’m Guest Chef for the Day in Charlie Trotter’s Kitchen
August 23, 2008

My brother Don and sister-in-law Kristy bid a charity auction item for me to be Guest Chef For The Day at Charlie Trotter’s Restaurant in Chicago. I spent the complete day in the kitchen including food preparation training and working on the line. Then after cooking from 2 PM to 9 PM, I changed out of my chef’s whites and sat down to dinner in the dining room with my family and friends to enjoy the food that I helped to prepare.

Dishes Inspired by Charlie Trotter Cookbooks

His cookbooks were meant to document the experience in his restaurant.
Artistry. Alchemy. Inspiration.

Quinoa Corn Timbale, Turnip Confit, Broccoli Rabe, Shiitake, Fried Sage, Demi-Glace

An Earthy Autumn Meal in a Bowl
Quinoa Corn Timbale, Turnip Confit,
Broccoli Rabe, Shiitake, Quail Egg, Fried Sage, Demi-Glace

This was a definitely a challenge for me – to create a dish where the unpretentious turnip is the star. Turnip, hmmm. Well, at least I know where to turn. My hero, Chef Charlie Trotter. He is passionate about vegetables. He’s not selective about the types of vegetables he works with – he loves them all, from the humble ones to the exotic. For that reason, I looked no further than the October chapter of Charlie Trotter’s Vegetables for turnip-inspiration.

He writes, “As crimson and amber leaves flutter on the trees, it feels right to trade summer’s abundance for fall’s full flavors. This simple preparation with turnips is a great segue into colder weather dishes.”

Spring Bliss Soup

Chilled Sugar Snap Pea & Mint Soup
Mashed Avocado with Lime, Tomato Concassé with Shallot
Fresh Mint, Chili Oil & Creme Fraiche Garnish

A vendor at the Farmers’ Market was handing out samples of fresh-from-the-vine sugar snap peas. Telling people just to eat them as is, no cooking necessary. They were sweet & exploding with flavor, crunchy, the color of spring. Few of us could pass up buying a basket or two. Once home, I turned to my favorite vegetable cookbook Charlie Trotter’s Vegetables for inspiration: Sugar Snap Pea Soup. A simple and refreshing chilled soup. With avocado for richness, tomato for sweet acidity, mint for brightness. Spring. Bliss.

Resplendent Beet Salad

Roasted Baby Golden Beet, Gala Apple, Kumquat
Raw Sheep’s Milk French Roquefort, Pistachio
Dandelion, Butterhead, Roasted Poblano Vinaigrette
Tricolor Viola & Wild Mustard Flower Garnish

Roasted tarragon-scented sweet soft baby golden beets are paired with tart-crisp apple, bitter-spiky dandelion, creamy-smooth butter lettuce, zingy kumquat, tangy Roquefort, rich pistachios and a playfully-spicy poblano chile vinaigrette. It’s a very refreshing, harmonious, and somewhat surprising salad.

Baby Candy Stripe Beet Fettuccine, Beet Syrup

Fresh Egg Fettuccine with Braised Red Cabbage, Red Onion, Roasted Red Beet
Red Wine Butter Sauce & Beet Syrup
Thyme-Scented Baby Candy Stripe Beet with Fresh Chervil

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t toss those adorable blushing baby candy stripe beets into the pasta. Their charm would have been sadly lost. So the thyme-scented little chioggias were simply sliced in half and arranged around the pasta, with the most incredible concentrated beet syrup, and dainty little sprigs of fresh chervil.

Lobster & Okra Fettuccine, Spicy Gumbo Sauce

Maine Lobster & Homemade Pickled Okra
Tossed with Fresh Fettuccine
Spicy Gumbo Sauce
Ground Sassafras & Celery Leaf Garnish

Although this dish is nothing like his “Crayfish Lasagne with Duck Rillette,” Charlie Trotter’s original creation is most definitely the inspiration for my dish. His sauce pairs beautifully with seafood pasta.

steamed sablefish in bok choy, shiitake, NAVY bean emulsion

uss abraham lincoln

In Honor of the Arrival of the  USS Abraham Lincoln at The Port of Los Angeles

Steamed Sablefish with Sautéed Shiitake
Wrapped in Bok Choy Leaves 
over NAVY Beans, Mung Bean Sprouts, Kizami Shoga
NAVY Bean Emulsion, Society Garlic Blossom Garnish

The idea for the combination of the flavors in this dish comes from one of my favorite seafood cookbooks, Charlie Trotter’s Seafood. Sablefish, when steamed, is meltingly tender and delicate. Earthy shiitakes and mung bean spouts add a clean poignant accent to the fish and buttery NAVY beans. The red ginger adds unexpected brightness and a sassy bite.

The Ultimate Vegetable Stir-Fry Tower, Three Vibrant Sauces

The Ultimate Vegetable Stir-Fry Tower
Pea Sprouts, Shiitake, Soybean Sprouts, Pickled Japanese Cucumber & Red Jalapeño
Chinese Chives, Tofu, Ginger, Cilantro
Over an Organic Short Grain Rice Timbale
With Three Vibrant Sauces: Cilantro Juice, Chile Oil, Miso Sauce

“The recipes… are only a guide. You can use any or all of a recipe, deviate wherever you like, or indeed substitute ingredients completely if it suits your desires. In fact, you may want to forget about the recipe specifics and use the photographs alone as your inspiration,” penned Charlie Trotter in 1994.

Thank you, Chef! No wonder you are my hero. Your words written years ago perfectly describe my cooking style and blog: where the image is meant to titillate and inspire the cook!

Napoleon of Portobella & Turnip, Ginger-Soy-Mirin Sauce

Napoleon of Portobella & Turnip, Ginger-Soy-Mirin Sauce

Roasted Napoleon of Portobella and Turnip
Little Buna-Shimeji Mushrooms and Corn Kernels
Ginger Soy Mirin Sauce, Cilantro Garnish

I received his eponymous cookbook Charlie Trotter’s in 1998 as a holiday gift from my brother during our first dining excursion at Charlie Trotter’s. Don invited my then-husband Gary and I to fly to Chicago for the ultimate dining experience.

The more I cook from these two books – Charlie Trotter’s and Charlie Trotter’s Vegetables the more I appreciate the genius of the Chef. This dish makes an elegant vegan main course. You can also serve it as a vegetable alongside a grilled steak, rib-eye being my preference.

Black-Eyed Peas with Haricots Verts Baby Spinach and Baby White Potatoes Spicy Curry Emulsion

Black-Eyed Peas with Haricots Verts
Baby Spinach and Baby White Potatoes
Spicy Curry Emulsion

Chef recommends placing slices of poached chicken on top if you would like a more substantial dish. Vegan, vegetarian (made with butter), or served with chicken, this is a stellar dish that is sure to delight!

“To me, June is synonymous with exuberance, mostly because the flavors and colors of the month’s offering are so dramatic. I like elegant playful spicing in June, which is perfect for these fresh ingredients. I’m not yet ready for the big, assertive spices and flavors of late summer,” wrote Charlie Trotter.

Grilled King Trumpet Mushrooms &  Shishito Peppers on Rosemary Skewers Baby Spinach and Rosemary Roasted Golden Soybeans Toasted Sesame Oil & Tomato Water

Grilled King Trumpet Mushrooms &  Shishito Peppers on Rosemary Skewers
Baby Spinach and Rosemary Roasted Golden Soybeans
Toasted Sesame Oil & Tomato Water

In honor of the three year anniversary of Taste With The Eyes and my very first post on June 10, 2007, I turned to Charlie Trotter’s Vegetables cookbook for inspiration. His recipe for Grilled Porcini Mushrooms with Tomato Water became my muse. The journey began with fresh Shishito peppers and King Trumpet mushrooms…

You will always inspire me Chef.

In Memoriam

Charlie Trotter

September 8, 1959 – November 5, 2013


8 thoughts on “A Tribute to My Hero, Chef Charlie Trotter”

  1. A lovely tribute and great photos, I know he would be pleased. My husband and I had some delicious meals at his restaurant. Even though I’m not a vegetarian, one of my best meals at his restaurant was his multi course vegetarian menu one night…it was wonderful.

  2. Writing from far away across the seas I have learned of a talented chef too young to have left . . . what a wonderful memorial and teaching experience for all of us both as far as content and photos are concerned. Thank you for the beauty . . .

  3. Your dishes elevate mere food to an art – not only the combinations and tastes, which I’m sure are delicious – but the arrangement of colors and shapes and textures. I look at your photos and drool – both wishing I had some tastes of the food, and wishing I had the talent to take such beautiful shots.

  4. I’m afraid that, having been out of the country for many years, I missed the Charlie Trotter phenomenon almost entirely, at least until he passed away. But if these dishes are examples of his craft, I can understand why he inspires you. That savory Napoleon alone looks incredible!

    Best wishes for a wonderful New Year, Lori!

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