Last month there were two posts (the first here, the second there) on Eater highlighting notable restaurants from notable alumni of The French Laundry. Now, it's time to look at the restaurants that may not have existed had it not been for the influence of Charlie Trotter, who will be closing his eponymous Chicago restaurant at the end of August. Over the last twenty-five years, the chef, who is credited as a Chicago pioneer who introduced degustation menus to the fine dining experience and is known for being one hell of a control freak, has seen several talented chefs pass through his kitchen. Here are some of the ones that ended up making it big on their own:
MotoLocation: Chicago, Illinois
Chef: Homaro Cantu
As the story goes, in 1999 Homaro Cantu showed up at Charlie Trotter's and asked the big man for a job, offering to work for free. He got it, made his way up the ranks to sous chef, and left in 2004 to develop his own project.
That ended up being Moto, a symbol of unabashedly science-mad cooking, where you can eat your menu and try out dishes made from inventions that Cantu himself has developed – some of them even with help from Nasa. Considering that Cantu cites Trotter as one his main influences, it makes the concept of Moto even more jarring and wacky.
GraceLocation: Chicago, Illinois
Chef: Curtis Duffy
Curtis Duffy started cooking under Charlie Trotter when he first arrived in Chicago from his native Ohio. That was in 2000, and he spent three years there until moving on to help Grant Achatz get Alinea off the ground. Later on he ran the show at the celebrated Avenues, in Chicago's Peninsula Hotel.
It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Grace, his first restaurant as chef-owner, is the most anticipated opening in Chicago this year. What we know at this point: it occupies a 10,000 square-foot space in the West Loop and will likely showcase personal, authorial cooking from Duffy.
Graham ElliotLocation: Chicago, Illinois
Chef: Graham Elliot
Graham Elliot joined the Trotter's team when he was 21 and stayed for three years, before moving on to another Chicago powerhouse, Tru.
He's now a TV personality and owns three eponymous concepts — a flagship restaurant, a sandwich spot, and a bistro. Of his experiences with Trotter, Elliot comments: “The idea that working with your hands and amazing ingredients can be romantic and artistic, and that everything you do in life is of equal importance and should be done to perfection—these are things I now live by.”
Urban BellyLocation: Chicago, Illinois
Chef: Bill Kim
The Korean-born Bill Kim spent time working at Trotter's on two separate occasions. The first resulted in him becoming sous chef, and the second with the post of chef de cuisine. His Urban Belly concept might be called Chicago's answer to David Chang's Momofuku, in that its focus is on Korean-inflected noodles that draw from various cultures and frequently emphasize porkiness. It's also a fairly underserved, funky area, Avondale, and the seating is communal.
Kim has another concept, Belly Shack, and is working on several other projects.
M.B. PostLocation: Manhattan Beach, California
Chef: David LeFevre
David Lefevre worked alongside Giuseppe Tentori while he was at Trotter's. It was the first big gig of his career, and in a seven year period, he went from intern to sous. In the following years, he cooked at Tetsuya's and spent some time at elBulli, but his first big break was as chef of L.A.'s Water Grill, taking over for Michael Cimarusti. He worked there for six years, during which he got the place a Michelin star.
He's now got his own spot back where he's comfortable and can ride his bike to work. The menu at MB Post is sprawling and rustic, and the space is beachy and casual, but the food is outstanding: in its first year, it earned accolades from Jonathan Gold, S. Irene Virbila, and Los Angeles Magazine.
BokaLocation: Chicago, Illinois
Chef: Giuseppe Tentori
Giuseppe Tentori is a nine-year veteran of Charlie Trotter's, where he spent the last two years of his time there as chef de cuisine.
At Boka, where he is chef-partner, he's gone a bit more progressive, exploring above all surprising and unconventional flavor combinations. You'll see, for instance, a sweetbread-crusted fish or a veal shoulder with jerk seasoning, pumpernickel, and kohlrabi, or a preparation of squid stuffed with scallops and served with tapioca and spicy pineapple. By most accounts, he really gets it right. NB. Tentori also runs the very successful GT Fish & Oyster.
Hot ChocolateLocation: Chicago, Illinois
Chef: Mindy Segal
Mindy Segal is known for her wizardry with the sweet, and she spent time at Trotter's that she found crucial, learning that "the best way to hurry up was to slow down, and I always think about that.. about how I can do something more gracefully and better." For several years she's been the executive chef of Chicago's Hot Chocolate, which has a full and good savory menu but an absolutely killer dessert section. And yes, there's hot chocolate on the menu.
ZealousLocation: Chicago, Illinois
Chef: Michael Taus
Right after finishing up at the CIA, Michael Taus landed at Charlie Trotter's. That was in 1988, just a year after the restaurant had opened its doors and during a time that the Chicago dining landscape was a very different thing than what it is now.
His restaurant Zealous, which opened in 1993, has become a Chicago stalwart and part of a generation of restaurants that have made the city one of if not the most exciting dining towns in the country. He applies a Trotter-esque focus on textural and aesthetic contrasts, and has a freewheeling desire to draw from all over the world; there's Szechuan stuff, dosas, gravlax, and much more working harmoniously on the menu. He has said of CT: "He was very good to me. I love him to death. He wrecked me as good as fixed me. He puts the standard so high. If it weren’t for him none of us would be doing what we’re doing. He was the first one to discuss excellence."
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