Trotter closing restaurant, going back to school

January 3, 2012 4:47:26 AM PST
Over the weekend, award-winning chef and Chicago restaurateur Charlie Trotter announced he will close his famous restaurant.

Trotter, who is 52 years old, says the reason behind his decision is not because of the economy. He wants to return to college.

The name Charlie Trotter may be well known in the culinary world. For those familiar with Trotter's kitchen they know him simply as "chef." And chef is calling it quits.

"The people who know me should never be caught off guard by anything," Trotter said.

For 25 years the mostly self-taught chef has operated a trendsetting restaurant in Lincoln Park that invited diners into the kitchen and collected extraordinary wines.

Now, Trotter says, is the time to step away from the restaurant to pursue a master's degree and travel with his wife Rochelle.

"We went through the 21st anniversary, and I said I'm gonna stick it out until 25, and then I owe it to myself to explore some other things," said Trotter. "So this really isn't an overnight decision."

Trotter's multi-course service and attention to "getting it right," as he says, has drawn diners from around the world despite the high price point.

And, under Trotter's guidance, other renowned, award-winning chefs have gone on to shine.

"Charlie is definitely one of the people who put Chicago dining on the map, and he's nurtured a lot of young chefs that have gone on to have great careers," said Chicago Tribune restaurant critic Phil Vettel.

"It's creating a culture of 'you will be a leader.' Yes, you still work for me, my expectations from me are high, but your expectations for yourself need to be even higher," Trotter said.

While the restaurant will close, Trotters To Go will remain.

Visitors to Trotters To Go say they know the legend of dining at Charlie Trotter's.

"It's a shame it's closing. I've heard nothing but good things, and hopefully, I'll get to go there before it closes its doors," said Jen Greenblatt.

"The experience was extraordinary," said Bita Fakoori. "It's nothing like you have ever seen at any other restaurants. Mr. Trotter knows how to pick the menus and he does a really good job."

"We're actually going to make reservations to see if we can get in before they close for good," said Marcus Buenrostro.

"After 25 years, Mayor Daley said I'm taking a hiatus here, and after 25 years in Chicago Oprah said, 'I'm ready for something different,' so I guess I'm following their lead a little bit," Trotter said.

In recent years, other Chicago restaurants and chefs have captured gotten the attention of national critics. Some have been critical of Trotter's performance. But, Trotter says, he has continued to reinvent his menus and this decision was on his terms.

Criticism or not, now begins the mad dash to get in for one of the last meals at Charlie Trotter's. The restaurant closes in August.