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Square Meal editor Ben McCormack remembers Chicago chef Charlie Trotter (pictured, right), who died yesterday aged 54
I visited Chicago about 10 years ago to write a travel feature for Square Meal Lifestyle magazine, and interviewing Charlie Trotter was top of my to-do list in the Windy City – along with eating at his iconic self-named restaurant.
Charlie couldn’t have been more welcoming. He phoned me at my hotel to ask if I’d like to have lunch at the famous Mexican restaurant Frontera Grill, and did I mind if a friend of his from Sydney joined us? It turned out the friend in question was Tetsuya Wakuda, and so I found myself munching tortilla chips and quesadillas with two of the world’s most respected chefs, all thoughts of an interview put to one side as the three of us chatted happily about Mexican food and our favourite restaurants.
Something similar happened the next day. Another call to my hotel, Charlie asking would I like to come to his restaurant that evening for a small dinner with a few friends? I was on my own in Chicago and knew no one, so I jumped at the chance. This time it turned out that the friends were not only Tetsuya and two of Charlie’s most loyal customers, but also Heston Blumenthal; when Heston arrived in a taxi, Charlie already had his staff lined up outside the restaurant to greet him like a visiting head of state before we sat down to a tasting dinner of Charlie’s signature dishes and favourite wines from his cellar.
Charlie Trotter put Chicago on the world food map and inspired a generation of young American chefs. But my main memory of him is of a kind, genuinely welcoming and generous man who exemplified the best aspects of the restaurant business – and showed why it’s also known as the ‘hospitality’ industry. My thoughts go out to his wife and family.