Callie Lipkin

magnify Click image to view more.

Remembering Chicago's Great Chef: Charlie Trotter

Barbara Revsine - November 12th, 2013

Charlie Trotter was remembered at a service held Monday morning with the same combination of grace, dignity, and elegance that characterized everything he did. The setting was Chicago’s massive Fourth Presbyterian Church on North Michigan Avenue, where the overflow crowd was a mix of somber suits and dark dresses punctuated with Trotter alums in chef's whites emblazoned with the restaurant’s familiar logo.

People conversed in hushed tones before the funeral began. Some talked about the food they’d had at the restaurant and the chef’s many charities, while others reminisced about more personal matters, topics revisited during both the service and the reception that followed.

Speakers, aside from the three officiating pastors, were limited to Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emanuel and Trotter’s sister Anne Trotter Hinkamp.

A classmate of Trotter’s in high school, Emanuel said they were both known for their “in your face” personalities, a comment that elicited more than a few chuckles. Emanuel went on to talk about Trotter’s role as a cultural ambassador for Chicago, “the most American of American cities,” as well as his countless acts of kindness and generosity. Expressing the sense of loss felt by everyone at the service, the mayor ended with a thank you to the Trotter family for sharing him.

Trotter’s sister’s remarks were more personal. She recounted childhood adventures, called Trotter’s son Dylan his “greatest creation,” and recounted how, in reference to their two wedding ceremonies, Trotter said his wife, Rochelle, was “so nice he married her twice.” Hinkamp also touched on the restaurant’s early days, on the partnership between Trotter and his late father, and the efforts of his mother and siblings.

In the end, it was the pastor of the Trotter family’s church in suburban Wilmette, Sarah Sarchet Butter, who voiced the unanswerable questions that were on everyone’s mind. “Faith has not erased our grief or our questions,” she said, adding that when death is premature, sudden, and unexplained, we are so unprepared. We want, she continued, “…one more meal, one more handshake, one more chance to say ‘I love you.’”

The answers to life’s ultimate questions may forever elude us, but the funeral and the reception that followed confirmed a truth we already knew: Charlie Trotter changed the landscape of the restaurant world. He will not be forgotten, and he will be sorely missed.