Let up on Charlie Trotter

I make my living off the Evening News 
Just give me something-something I can use 
People love it when you lose…..

This is just an off the cuff blurb about the Charlie Trotter situation last week.  I have never met the chef, never sat at the Chef’s table, never stepped into his restaurant. I have an uncultured palate.

Yet I believe a talented chef is an artist.

I know that the demands of running an elite dining establishment are myriad. I watch Gordon Ramsey explode every week for a very high payday and a large audience.  So the notion that Mr. Trotter could go off is not alien to me.

Mr. Trotter may well be temperamental about his shuttered property. He may have been brusque with the high school kids. He was extending his premises, valued at upwards of 3 million dollars, to a group of students.  That is a leap of faith.

His request that they clean up the area that they were using does not seem out of line to me.  His observation that guests in his “house” might ask if he would like them to grab him a coke from the convenience store is not outrageous. Remarks about sexual orientation and tattoos seem out of line, but despite the ubiquitous presence of cell cameras, we do not have any certainty that he said those words.

What chafes me about this episode is that the kids knew immediately how to take their pound of flesh.  They called out the media, only too thrilled to have an iconic Chicago citizen to peck apart. News crews arrived, reporters from the papers took statements from the parents and kids.  Trotter was chased into his building and asked commando questions, and past behavior was dredged up.

There was glee in roasting the chef.

The media round up reminded me of my kids threatening to call DCFS if I punished them. ( I always said, go for it…you will love your foster family. That worked.) There was power, authority and credibility given to these kids because they had a high level target. They hit a bullseye.

There was a presumption that the kids were abused, or that Charlie Trotter had absconded with their artwork after treating them as chattel.  What we had was a “we say” “he said”  situation, but it was given breathless coverage, and more air time than the Syria standoff. There was subsequent piling on in print, with anecdotes of bad temper, suppositions that Charlie is in despair and jealous of new chefs, and critiques of the food eaten in his restaurants.

Yikes. Much ado about a moment where everyone could benefit from a do-over.

A Summary: A high profile venue was proffered for use by a legendary chef who has contributed time and resources to After School Matters. He is affected by the attitudes or behaviors of the kids. They are kids, after all: is it inconceivable that they were a bit annoying?   He demonstrates clearly that they irritate them. Kicks them out. Media frenzy is activated by the kids’ highly tuned use of social media and the delicious prospect of taking down a legend.

An observation from the sideline: The “boss” of these students said that his “artists” were not respected. Maybe not.

These things are certainties, though.

1.  Antagonistic language rarely advances problem solving. A measured response by the mentor could have alleviated the tension. The kids would have seen mediation at work, a great life skill.

2. “Artist” is a term that is generally affixed to someone who has worked for years to study and create a body of work. A chef who started by washing pans and later put Chicago on the culinary map might not love hearing it applied to novice photographers.

3.  Respect is earned via hard work and civility. A master chef and beginning students are not artistic equals on any plane. Deference might have been in order. On the other hand, every human deserves civility.

4. A property owner can expect a certain decorum of his tenants. It may not extend to cleaning toilets, but if the premises were to showcase the kids’ projects, they should want it to sparkle. Cleaning is a fact of life, no one is really above it. Perhaps the chaperoning adult could have modeled the behavior of inspecting and tidying the area being inhabited.

5. The media loves to tear an icon down. No one knew exactly what went on, but there was a perverse TMZ gossip aura to the coverage. Not any outlet’s finest moment.

6.  Toughen up, kids.  You will often be rejected or disrespected in your quest as “artists” but you will not always be able to call the media and your Moms to defend you.  Hard knocks go with the territory.

I have read that Charlie Trotter is an exacting man with a brusque demeanor. I expect that is why people waited years to dine at his place.

He had a bad day. The kids who summoned the vultures may feel vindicated. They will show their work at a frame shop, and the new location will be reported so that media outlets can have a second run at the Chef.

Like Don Henley says…we love our dirty laundry.

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