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Chicago chef Charlie Trotter dead at 54

Chicago-based celebrity chef Charlie Trotter, credited for changing the fine dining landscape of America, has died aged 54.

Renowned Chicago chef Charlie Trotter has died aged 54. Credit: AP

The chef was found unconscious by his son Dylan yesterday morning at their Chicago home and was pronounced dead at 11.48am at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

According to the Chicago Tribune, an autopsy is scheduled to take place today but a source said there was no indication of foul play.

The Tribune reports that as a result of his medical condition, Trotter was told by doctors that he should not be flying because of the pressure on his brain.

“We are incredibly shocked and deeply saddened by the unexpected loss of Charlie at our home in Lincoln Park.

The interior of Trotter’s eponymous restaurant

“He was much loved, and words cannot describe how much he will be missed,” his wife Rochelle said in a statement released last night.

“Charlie was a trailblazer and introduced people to a new way of dining when he opened Charlie Trotter’s.

“His impact upon American cuisine and the culinary world at large will always be remembered. We thank you for your kind words, love and support,” she added.

The self-taught chef fell in love with cooking while working in a restaurant during college.

With little culinary training, he began working in various restaurants full-time age 23, opening his eponymous Charlie Trotter’s just four years later.

“Charlie was a father figure to me when it came to not just cooking, but life, and seeing things in a different way,” said chef Graham Elliot Bowles, who worked for Trotter.

“I can’t put into words how saddened I am. It’s a huge loss, both personally and for the culinary world,” he added.

The chef in his wine cellar at Charlie Trotter’s before the restaurant closed

Matthias Merges, who worked with Trotter as executive chef for 14 years, said: “I don’t think you can write a sadder story.

“What he’s accomplished has been the game changer for the landscape of American cuisine.”

It’s easy to forget what a pioneer Trotter was, especially in the Midwest.

He was among the first to popularise tasting menus and was an early advocate for cooking with fresh, seasonal ingredients, offering vegetarian menus and even a raw menu for guests.

“I think I can attribute the majority of my attention to detail and awareness of what it takes to run a fine dining restaurant to him,” said LA-based chef David LeFevre, who worked for Trotter for a decade.

In 1997, Trotter made a cameo appearance as an angry chef in My Best Friend’s Wedding, starring Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz.

Unafraid of controversy, in 2002 Trotter took foie gras off his menu, but when the Chicago city council later passed a ban, he spoke out against it, arguing it wasn’t a politician’s job to legislate eating habits.

Trotter has also been a consistent champion for wine service, hiring and nurturing some of the top sommeliers in the industry and creating the Charlie Trotter Education Foundation to provide scholarships for culinary students.

Last year, he received the James Beard Foundation’s Humanitarian of the Year award.

Wine played an important role at Charlie Trotter’s, with a 1,800-stong wine list, built on a cellar of more than 4,000 bottles, offering both the benchmark fine wines and smart buys.

On New Year’s Eve last year, Trotter announced to diners that he was to close the restaurant after 25 years of service, with the last service taking place in August.

Having closed the restaurant, last November Trotter auctioned off his million-dollar cellar at Christie’s in New York.

The sale featured offerings from the world’s premier wine regions, including Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, California, Tuscany and Piedmont.

Earlier this year, Trotter was sued by brothers Bekim and Ilir Frrokaj for allegedly selling them a magnum of fake Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 1945 for £30,000 last June.

Trotter denied the allegations, citing “buyer’s remorse” as the reason for the court case.

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