Charlie Trotter, whose eponymous Chicago restaurant became an institution and helped pave the way for innovative small dishes that featured fresh and unique food, has died at age 54.
His death is being reported by The Chicago Tribune, citing police and family sources. The newspaper reports that Trotter's family discovered him unconscious at home Tuesday morning. He was reportedly rushed to the hospital, but did not survive.
In the hours since NBC Chicago first reported the news of Trotter's death, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office released a statement praising the late chef for playing "a leading role in elevating the city to the culinary capital it is today."
Famous for his relentless quest to fill three daily tasting menus with creative dishes, Trotter helped bring a new dimension to fine dining in Chicago and beyond when he opened his restaurant in 1987. His menus bypassed heavy sauces for a lighter approach, often highlighting ingredients that were once rare in fine dining.
"The taste of free-range and organic products is so much better than the alternative," Trotter was quoted as saying on his website. "It is also good to know that you are eating unadulterated food and supporting farmers and growers who are directly connected with the land."
His Chicago restaurant, Charlie Trotter's, closed in 2012 after nearly 25 years of operation. It regularly won five stars from the Mobil Travel Guide, in addition to being on Restaurant Magazine's list of The World's 50 Best Restaurants for nearly a decade.
The restaurant's closing last year was the biggest local culinary story of 2012, according to the Chicagoist site.
"Everyone you've heard of, including luminaries like Grant Achatz, Graham Elliot, Homaro Cantu, Mindy Segal, Bill Kim, Beverly Kim and Curtis Duffy came out of Trotter's kitchen," the site reported. "Ironically, the successes of these luminaries probably contributed to the closing."
Trotter and his restaurant also won 11 prestigious James Beard Foundation awards, ranging from Outstanding Chef to Humanitarian of the Year. The eatery was named Outstanding Restaurant in 2000.
Those accomplishments came despite the fact that Trotter never attended culinary school. Instead, he relied on his own tastes and the training he got working in restaurants in Chicago's North Shore area and elsewhere.