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, 2011Laura 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.