Exclusive: Charlie Trotter's wife talks about his legacy, her loss

Leah Hope Image
Friday, October 24, 2014
Charlie Trotter?s wife talks about his legacy, her loss
EMBED <>More Videos

Rochelle Trotter, widow of legendary chef Charlie Trotter, opens up about her heartbreak and his enduring legacy.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Rochelle Trotter arrives for the interview wearing a broad smile and a fantastic dress. It is a dress her late husband, legendary Chicago chef Charlie Trotter, bought for her. The two were together for fifteen years.

"It really is one day at a time," she says about dealing with her loss. "It's pain that I'm working through."

Last November, her stepson called her to tell her that Trotter was not breathing. Rochelle says an initial autopsy showed the cause of death as inconclusive, but she could not rest with that.

"I said I can't do that," she says. "We need to know what happened."

While her husband previously had a seizure, high blood pressure, struggled with depression and had become almost reclusive, Rochelle reveals it was a stroke that killed him. The final autopsy showed no signs of stress.

"That brings me such peace and such gratefulness because he didn't struggle," she says. "He went to sleep and he never woke up."

In 2012, Trotter announced he was closing his legendary restaurant after 25 years and was going to pursue a degree in philosophy.

Trotter could be both brusque and big hearted. The high expectations he held for himself and his staff were legendary. His kitchen produced rich dining experiences and a legion of chefs and others in the culinary industry.

Outside of the restaurant, he began a foundation to help underserved students pay for culinary school. The Charlie Trotter Culinary Education Foundation gave several scholarships over the years to students at Kendall College. Laura Martinez benefited from an internship that the foundation help fund at Chicago Lighthouse.

Martinez, who is blind since birth, made a meal for Trotter and he hired her immediately.

Now Chef Martinez is preparing to open her own restaurant. She says Chef Trotter was like a father to her.

"You learned so much," Martinez says. "He was so smart and intelligent."

When Charlie Trotter's restaurant closed, the foundation ceased giving scholarships and educational support, but Rochelle has restarted the foundation's giving and has plans to do more.

"This is something that Charles was really passionate about," she says, "and I'm just honored to keep moving forward with it."

On Nov.5th, "A Toast to Charlie" will bring many celebrity chefs to Chicago and will be a fundraiser for the Charlie Trotter Culinary Education Fund.

"He will live on forever," Rochelle says, "and not many people can say that."