In 2007 we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Charlie Trotter’s restaurant in Chicago, and after all this time we are still trying to "get it right."
We opened in 1987, with the idea that we would place equal importance on the four tenets of a great dining experience--cuisine, service, ambience and an exquisite wine program.
I am a chef who obsesses about food, to the point where it could be construed as perverse! Yet simultaneously I am of the belief that the food is not the most important part of the dining experience. It’s all about service--as the great Danny Meyer taught us a long time ago. After attentive, sincere and informed service, then it’s possible that everything else can fall right into place.
The emphasis on wine goes almost without saying. Or maybe I should just point out that the restaurant has held Wine Spectator’s Grand Award since 1993. I have had the distinct privilege of working very closely with four master sommeliers: Larry Stone, Joe Spellman, Serafin Alvarado and Jason Smith. Each of those talented individuals has contributed immensely to our wine program. I’ll address wine and food more directly in my next blog.
Some of you may be aware that I take a wider interest in food than simply how it tastes. I’m equally concerned with issues of health, environmental quality and what you might call "food ethics." For example, I don’t serve foie gras in my restaurant anymore. Also, I wrote a cookbook about raw food with chef Roxanne Klein.
I believe that healthy food and wine are naturals together. My latest book, Spa Cuisine, features the nutritionally analyzed spa food that we offer at One&Only Palmilla in Los Cabos, Mexico. The first and foremost concern was to emphasize flavor, then to let the nutritional aspects fall into place. The result is "health food" that actually tastes good. And, by the way, our version of spa cuisine is particularly wine-friendly. (But I guess that should go without saying!)
Finally, you should know about the Charlie Trotter’s Culinary Education Foundation. It has been in place since August 1999, and to date we have raised about $850,000, which goes toward providing scholarships and grants to young men and women that might not otherwise be able to afford to go to culinary school.
Another aspect of our program--which is actually the most interesting part--is the Excellence Program. Three nights a week, for the past seven years, high-school juniors and seniors arrive by school bus at 5 p.m. For the next two hours, they have a 10-course menu, and listen to a dozen of our staff members who explain how they pursue excellence on a daily basis. The only requirement is that each young adult asks two questions.
For myself and the team, it is very gratifying to give something back to the great city of Chicago and enforce the value of pursuing excellence. We try to lead by example, with a message that boils down to this: In life, you get what you give.
I look forward to sharing my thoughts on food, wine and life with you over the next month, and also to hearing what you have to say.
Gary Roberts — Suffolk VA — October 10, 2006 1:41pm ET
Dan Jaworek — Chicago — October 10, 2006 1:44pm ET
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — October 10, 2006 2:18pm ET
Joshua Pauley — Washington, DC — October 10, 2006 7:17pm ET
Arnaud Tronche — Chicago — October 11, 2006 12:33pm ET
Charlie Trotter — Chicago, Illinois — October 11, 2006 6:59pm ET
Charlie Trotter — Chicago, Illinois — October 11, 2006 7:19pm ET
Charlie Trotter — Chicago, Illinois — October 11, 2006 7:29pm ET
Charlie Trotter — Chicago, Illinois — October 11, 2006 7:40pm ET
John Miller — Windsor, CA — October 12, 2006 2:51pm ET
Sussanah Nolan — Brooklyn, NY — October 13, 2006 5:45pm ET
Charlie Trotter — Chicago, Illinois — October 14, 2006 2:06pm ET
Rolf Knecht — Shanghai, China — October 15, 2006 3:56am ET
Charlie Trotter — Chicago, Illinois — October 18, 2006 6:41pm ET
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