Sad news about Charlie Trotter

November 5, 2013 • Posted in blindness, Blogroll, careers/jobs for people who are blind, public speaking, Uncategorized by

Renowned Chicago chef Charlie Trotter died this morning. He was 54 years old. The foodie world will miss him, and those of us who are blind will, too. A post I wrote in 2011 explains. R.I.P., Charlie.

Her specialty is risotto

by Beth Finke

Published October 25, 2011

That's Laura Martinez of Charlie Trotter's.

Laura Martinez is 26 years old and has always loved to cook. She attended Le Cordon Bleu before accepting a position at Charlie Trotter’s, a five-star restaurant here in Chicago.

And, oh yeah. Laura Martinez just happens to be blind.

In her spare time (!) Laura teaches a cooking class at Friedman Place, a non-profit Supportive Living Community for Chicago adults who are blind and visually impaired. Laura doesn’t live at Friedman Place, but she was there last Thursday when I visited to give a presentation about my writing life. The Friedman Place web site promotes the full range of services and activities they provide “so that residents’ days are healthy, dignified, and stimulating.” While I am confident Laura’s cooking class keeps Friedman Place residents dignified and stimulated, I can’t vouch for the “healthy” bit: she served her signature brownies to residents during my presentation, and the luscious chocolaty treats were downright sinful!

I had a chance to talk with Laura before she skedaddled to her day job, and she told me co-workers on the line at Charlie Trotter’s have become comfortable having her there prepping, cleaning and chopping the food. I asked if she had a specialty. “Well, a lot of vegetarians come to Charlie Trotter’s,” she said,her voice betraying a proud smile. “They like my vegetable risotto.”

Renowned Chicago chef Charlie Trotter first met Laura a few years ago during a visit to the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind. Laura had been working in the Lighthouse cafeteria kitchen at the time, and it was love at first taste. Charlie is quoted in an article in the Chicago Tribune about Laura:

“I was watching her work and saw how she handled things with her hands, touching for temperature and doneness, and I ate her food and it was quite delicious. We got to talking and she told me about her dreams and I said, ‘What would you think about working at Charlie Trotter’s?'”

Laura was still attending the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu culinary program at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago at the time. Charlie Trotter offered to help with her tuition, and Laura has been working for him ever since.

The staff and residents at Friedman Place absolutely gushed over the presentation I gave with Harper last Thursday, so many of them shaking my hand and encouraging me to return with my new dog next year. I am flattered, of course, but I’m not fooling myself: I’m pretty sure they think they’ll get Laura’s brownies again if I come back.

Kim On November 5, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Sad news indeed.

Laura Gale On November 5, 2013 at 4:59 pm

It is sad about Charlie Trotter. I just heard a clip from an interview he gave a year ago after he closed his restaurant. He said that while he loved doing what he did, he wanted to try something new since he was still relative young and could try new things. I hope he got to do what he wanted to do.

It is great that he brought all types of people into his kitchen to serve the guests his famous cuisine, too. That doesn’t happen often enough.

bethfinke On November 6, 2013 at 10:27 am

Yes, I agree on all counts — hope he was able to spend at least some of this past year doing what he wanted, and he’ll always be a hero to me for taking the so-called “risk” of hiring Laura Martinez and other capable and unlikely cooks.

Janet On November 5, 2013 at 5:03 pm

very sad…your reprised blog is great tribute as it reminds us of the extensive generation of new cooks that Chef Trotter has launched. Now how do we get that brownie recipe from Laura?

bethfinke On November 6, 2013 at 10:29 am

You know, I have a friend who works at Friedman Place. Or, as you might say: I have people. I’ll see what I can do — thanks for the comment!

Maria On November 5, 2013 at 9:46 pm

So sad, he was so young.

Ray Vegter On November 6, 2013 at 8:19 am

Thanks Beth for re-posting this great piece. We always heard about how Charlie was demanding and could be hard to work with but rarely heard about his philanthropy and caring side. Well done.

bethfinke On November 6, 2013 at 10:32 am

Thanks, Ray. You’re right, there is a lot of press about how demanding Charlie Trotter was, it made me feel good to re-publish this blog post as a reminder — he wasn’t *all* bad! Good to hear from you again, Ray, I’ve missed your blog comments!

Benita Black On November 6, 2013 at 10:17 am

Thanks for re-posting this. I had the pleasure of eating in the kitchen at the restaurant—quite an unforgettable experience. Like Ray, I am glad to know of Charlie’s kindness.

bethfinke On November 6, 2013 at 10:33 am

Whoa. You ate in their kitchen? You’ll have to tell me about that sometime!

Joan Miller On November 6, 2013 at 9:37 pm

This week’s piece is very timely; I liked reading your re-posted story about Laura and Charlie Trotter’s notice of her cooking skills. Laura must have a great sense of touch to be able to wield a sharp knife in the Cordon Blue kitchen.

bethfinke On November 7, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Yeah, maybe she should visit that school I went to where the kids were worried about me bing anywhere near sharp knives!

Judy Spock On November 7, 2013 at 1:29 am

Dear Beth, We loved Charlie Trotter and his (Œour’) very nearby neighborhood restaurantŠwe celebrated lots of important occasions there over the yearsŠour mutual friend Anne Fisher won a ŒCharlie Trotter kitchen experience¹ in a raffle for a good causeŠwhen ¹aproned up¹, all she was given to do was poke raspberries into the side of a chocolate dessert (to hear her tell itŠ) but no matter how hard she tried, they popped out and rolled to the floor. Everyone was helpful, but the raspberries would sit quietly for a moment and then roll to the floor again! All Œhands’ were intensely absorbed, very busy and very kind. She reported creeping away quietly with even more respect for wizardry of Charlie Trotter¹s fabled cooking. He encouraged many young chefs, some still in high school, educating them through first hand experience in the kitchen of his restaurant in Lincoln Park, on Armitage Street, where seasonal displays of greenery and flowers graced the entrance. We will always miss him. xojudyspock

From: Safe & Sound blog Reply-To: Safe & Sound blog Date: Tue, 5 Nov 2013 21:16:12 +0000 To: Judith Spock Subject: [New post] Sad news about Charlie Trotter bethfinke posted: “Renowned Chicago chef Charlie Trotter died this morning. He was 54 years old. The foodie world will miss him, and those of us who are blind will, too. A post I wrote in 2011 explains. R.I.P., Charlie.Her specialty is risottoby Beth FinkePublished October “ On December 17, 2013 at 8:50 am

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