Charlie Trotter, this is your life

Chicago's first celebrity chef burst onto the scene 20 years ago. Here's a look at his finest moments.
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By David Tamarkin |
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August 17, 1987

Charlie Trotter’s opens its doors, serving an à la carte menu featuring roasted rack of lamb, grilled swordfish with crayfish mayonnaise and roasted pine nut tartlet with coconut ice cream.

December 1987
Trotter bans smoking from his restaurant.

January 1988
Charlie Trotter’s is the first restaurant in America to put a table in its kitchen so diners can watch chefs in action. Fine-dining restaurants everywhere in the country follow suit.

Fall 1990
Trotter demands that all spirits be taken out of the bar, preferring that his food be paired with wine instead; he never serves them again.

Fall 1992
The James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef in the Midwest is presented to Charlie Trotter. Over the years, nine more James Beard Awards will follow.

Fall 1994 
Trotter’s first cookbook, Charlie Trotter’s, is published. He will go on to write two management books and 13 more cookbooks, including a vegetable cookbook, a raw cookbook, a desserts cookbook and Gourmet Cooking for Dummies.

Fall 1997
PBS airs the first episode of The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter.

1998
Wine Spectator declares Charlie Trotter’s “The Best Restaurant in the World for Food and Wine.”

1999
Trotter starts the Charlie Trotter Culinary Education Foundation, hosting three dinners per week for high-school students and raising more than $800,000 for culinary-arts scholarships.

2000
Trotter opens the carry-out operation Trotter’s to Go about a mile from his restaurant.

Fall 2000
Citing inhumane conditions for geese and ducks, Trotter quietly stops serving foie gras (he does, however, allow guest chefs to serve it).

2003
A group of Trotter’s servers sue the chef for unlawfully retained tips and overtime; a group of chefs sue for overtime. Both cases are settled before they go to trial.

April 2005
In a public spat over his decision not to serve foie gras, Trotter is quoted in the Chicago Tribune as calling Tru chef Rick Tramonto an “idiot,” and saying that Tramonto’s liver should be eaten “as a little treat.” Tramonto vows to pray for Trotter.

May 2005
In a New York Times story about Chicago’s burgeoning molecular gastronomy scene, Trotter is quoted as calling the movement “nonsense on stilts.”

2007
Trotter holds a number of 20th-anniversary celebrations, including a dinner on Saturday 6 where the best chefs in the world—including French Laundry’s Thomas Keller and El Bulli’s Ferran Adrià—will each contribute a dish. The dinner, the proceeds of which will go to the Culinary Foundation, is invitation only, and costs $5,000 per person.

Late 2007
Restaurant Charlie, a seafood restaurant, will open in Vegas.

2008
Trotter’s upscale, as-yet-unnamed restaurant will be unveiled in Chicago’s Elysian Hotel.

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