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(More) Notable Restaurants From Charlie Trotter's Alumni

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Charlie Trotter's, Chicago.
Charlie Trotter's, Chicago.
Photo: Trotter's / Facebook

Last week Eater posted the first round of restaurants from notable alumni of Charlie Trotter's, which will close at the end of August. What follows are seven more restaurants — some of them quite under the radar — from chefs who have passed through the kitchen of the perfectionist Chicago pioneer. These are in no particular order, and please do nominate your picks in the comments. We'll add them.



Location: Chicago, Illinois
Chefs: Matthias Merges and Jennifer Petrusky

Matthias Merges first worked for Trotter for two years starting in 1989. He came back in 1996 and stayed on for fourteen more years, becoming executive chef and director of operations. If the detail-obsessed, control freak Trotter ever had a right-hand man, it was Merges.

Merges left his post in 2010, giving nearly four months notice before flying the coop. He now has Yusho, a yakitori restaurant in Chicago that is getting nothing but raves. The space was designed by his wife, Rachel, and Jennifer Petrusky, former chef de cuisine at Trotter's, does the same job here.
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Location: Chicago, Illinois
Chef: Grant Achatz

It's pretty obvious that the modernist chef Grant Achatz credits Thomas Keller as being his most crucial mentor. But as a young chef, Achatz did spend a few months in Trotter's kitchen. It's an experience he details in his memoir Life On The Line and one that the chefs seems to describe with a fair measure of ambivalence. For those unfamiliar, the experience culminates with Trotter telling Achatz that he can't put the experience at the restaurant on his resumé after only three months.

He has said that he has nothing for respect for Trotter; when it was announced that the seminal restaurant would close in August, Achatz told the Sun-Times that "[Trotter's] all-out assault to be the best, to be perfect, to make an amazing restaurant — I got that from him."

Now you can go to Alinea and experience one of the more stunning progressive menus in the world at a place that doesn't seem to hide the fact that it wants to be pretty damn perfect.
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2 Sparrows

Location: Chicago, Illinois
Chef: Gregory Ellis
FOH: Steven Fladung

Gregory Ellis and Steven Fladung, who grew up together and ended up being colleagues at Charlie Trotter's, have opened a casual restaurant in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago that focuses on breakfast, brunch, and lunch.

It's called 2 Sparrows, and they call what they're doing there "gastrobrunch." That basically means that you will find lots of nicely prepared brunch foods and items like foie gras pop tarts and a pork belly sandwich with eggs and pickled onions. Reviews so far have been solid but not overwhelmingly positive.
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Forthcoming Project

Location: Mid-Atlantic Region
Chef: John and Karen Shields

John Shields was sous chef at Trotter's for two years. It was during that time when he met his future wife, Karen, a pastry virtuoso, and decided to go solo with Town House in Chilhowie, Virginia.

That restaurant gradually earned a serious and loving following from bloggers and those seeking the next big thing, but the couple wasn't able to transcend the location and fill seats on weekdays. They closed it down in February but are looking to open a restaurant in the Mid-Atlantic region, perhaps D.C.
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Location: Lake Bluff, IL
Chef: John des Rosiers

John des Rosiers describes how one day Trotter screamed at him for trying to help out a guy at another station who was in the shit. "How dare you touch a plate I didn't give you permission to touch," Trotter yelled from across the kitchen.

But Rosiers looks at the bright side of the experience, pointing out how vital it is to have a mentor that expects the most from you. Rosiers now has Inovasi, a New American restaurant in Lake Bluff, as well as Wisma, a startup chain of prepared meal shops that focus on artisanal, organic, and "socially conscious" food.

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Location: Chicago, Illinois
Chef: Dean Zanella

After working for Trotter, Dean Zanella hit it big at Grappa and later at 312 Chicago.

Since 2010, he's been at Rhapsody, the restaurant attached to Chicago Symphony Center. His approach to cooking is not New American or progressive or French. Zanella is instead an Italian specialist, doing beautiful things with straightforward Italian flavors he grew up with. You can go there and have some rabbit and gnocchi or maybe calamari. And if it's nice out, it's some of the best outdoor dining the city has to offer.
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Location: Peoria, Illinois
Chef: Josh Adams

Josh Adams isn't a huge name and didn't spend a ton of time working for Trotter. What he is doing in Peoria, IL merits attention, however, and he credits Trotter for being the reason he got into cooking.

As the story goes, Adam's father gave him a copy of Trotter's Lessons in Excellence. When he finally got a chance to eat at the Chicago restaurant's kitchen table, Adams was so inquisitive and knowledgable that then-executive-chef Matthias Merges offered him a short stage. Years later, he opened June, in Peoria, which was been called the most ambitious restaurant in the area and garnered raves from national publications.

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· 8 Notable Restaurants From 8 Charlie Trotter's Alumni [-E-]
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