Chefs learn discipline from all sorts of sources — demanding mentors, finicky diners, their own mistakes in the kitchen — but very few, probably, can credit being an athlete with teaching them how to maintain focus in their cooking.
Growing up, Trotter spent hours training as a gymnast, and if there is one thing all gymnasts learn quickly, it’s that repetition is the key to success. Practicing skills over and over is a powerful way to retain muscle memory, to train your body to know what to do when the pressure is on. Perhaps that’s why even now, he feels most comfortable when the demands of the kitchen reach peak intensity, when everything just flows together because all the players already know what to do.
The skills that now come second nature were learned during a four year odyssey through 40 different restaurants in the U.S., in a culinary training program that Trotter created for himself before establishing a catering service in Chicago in the 1980s. That clientele served as a diner base eager to patronize the restaurant he eventually opened, Charlie Trotter’s, with his father’s help in 1987. But despite his well-known perfectionism and discipline in the kitchen, Trotter isn’t known for signature dishes, preferring instead to challenge himself by working with whatever ingredients are available, and whatever mood strikes him.
IF I WERE TO DIE TOMORROW, I’D WANT TO ENJOY TODAY: “The most perfect bottle of wine ever made: 1900 Chateau Margaux.”