The Real Charlie Trotter Was a Sweetheart

Lots of folks have their horror stories about Charlie Trotter’s rampages in the kitchen. He would publicly and loudly berate sub-par performance and get on the backs of whomever was not pulling their weight in his kitchen – anybody who was not giving everything they had. Because that’s what he did, and that’s what he expected. He was a toque-less legend with a French knife and a bad side.

He was Gordon Ramsay before Gordon Ramsay was cool.

Although you might think his style of food was a stratosphere or two above what a hot dog diarist could appreciate, the fact is, I did appreciate what Charlie Trotter was about, because I saw the real side.

A while back, your Humble Narrator worked for a nonprofit called Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, a residential care facility for abused and abandoned kids on Chicago’s West Side. There were all kinds of kids there who couldn’t seem to get a break, and who seemed to have lost the lottery Big Time when they called out who your parents would be from the Big Cosmic Bingo cage.

There was a kid there, we’ll call him Ryan, whose Mom used to sit in a bar and get loaded with Ryan sitting next to her on a barstool. And when midnight came around, the bartender told her the kid had to leave. He ran a respectable joint. She’d take him out to the car and strap him in so she could go back and drink.

And then she’d come back to the car in a drunken rage a few hours later and beat the tar out of Ryan while he was still strapped down. Mercy Home stepped in, and Ryan finally got a break. He loved cooking, and as he became a teenager, he really wanted to become a pastry chef.

It turns out Charlie Trotter decided to do a tasting menu benefit one night – and the $100,000 he raised would go to Mercy Home. He got wind of the kid who lived there who wanted to one day be a chef.

So he invited Ryan to help in the kitchen on the night of the benefit. I’m not sure if Charlie bawled Ryan out that night, but I did hear from a Trotter staffer that Charlie even let Ryan squeeze some cream out of a pastry bag for the desserts.

The story wasn’t told that much, but Charlie Trotter mentored this kid beyond that night – and Ryan eventually got a job at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills.

True story.

Hot-C and I attempted a Charlie Trotter dish from The Kitchen Sessions one night – it actually became two nights. It was Roasted Cornish Game Hens with Potatoes Pave. The “Pave” means “pavement” I think, and the way you make that is to layer slices of potatoes alternately with layers of sweet potatoes, and bathe the whole thing in rich cream. And then you had to press it down with a weight – overnight. I used a paver brick I found outside. Pave indeed!

Anyway, here’s a little video of our efforts. The dish was awesome.

And Trotter was an awesome guy too, as it turns out.

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