Not so long ago, when Chicago chef Charlie Trotter was defending the rights of geese and ducks to hold onto their engorged livers, a short term ban of foie gras ensued but I kept thinking, “I’ll listen to what he says about bird care when I hear he’s nicer to his line cooks.”
Really, the man’s a talented chef who has done a lot for his community but a recent profile by David Kamp (author of The United States of Arugula) was both fair and fairly devastating.
Chef Trotter is beloved by many of his colleagues and respected by many who have been through the ranks of his kitchens but he seems not to have outgrown that very last century notion of chef as humorless dictator and very loud screamer.
Or just rigid control freak. Even those offered up to defend and promote his mellowed modern self seemed under pressure to please Chef. Add to that a pair of failed expansion attempts in New York and two more in Vegas and you begin to wonder – does he play well with others?
These days, and forever after, being a chef/restaurateur means many things, among them, master collaborator.
At the StarChefs Chef’s Congress a couple of years ago I got to lead a conversation about what American Cuisine might actually be. My three panelists were Emeril Lagasse (with 11 restaurants, lots of books, those TV shows and, yes, that unfortunate but lucrative Crest commercial), Norman Van Aiken (with a couple of restaurants, some books and years of varied success) and Trotter. Each was asked by a young aspiring chef where they got their inspiration and fresh knowledge. Norman gave a studied and thoughtful answer about books and travel and tasting. Emeril gave an engaging, populist and modern nod to farmers, cheese makers, bread bakers and their artisan like.
And Trotter, true to form, talked about how he goes within (himself, that is) and searches until he finds the right answer.
His method is important from time to time, especially at the start of a career, as a person works to define and refine his offering, and occasionally important to refresh and reexamine. But I couldn’t help thinking how much he might be missing by putting himself first, and always.
Is he stuck or just holding true? Is his time passed or has he just not grown up, opened up and truly blossomed? Is he nicer to his cooks? Gee, I hope so.
Full article here