Most of the time we take chefs for granted. We go to the restaurant, sit down and order off the menu. Hopefully we enjoy it and then we go home. I never thought much about what chefs do until one August in 2010 when I was fortunate enough to be Chef for the Day at the famous Charlie Trotter’s restaurant in Chicago. Regarded as one of the finest restaurants in the world, Charlie’s Trotter’s dedicated itself to excellence in the culinary arts. Regrettably last August (2012), the famous chef decided to close his 25-year-old, two-Michelin-star establishment to pursue his dream of going attending graduate school to study philosophy.
Charlie Trotter had a stunning career as a chef and my time in his Chicago restaurant kitchen taught me a new-found respect for chefs, their cooking and the issues they deal with. Kitchens are hot and the work is hard. My assessment is that you REALLY have to like it in order to spend night after night in the kitchen. I am sure not every kitchen is like Charlie Trotter’s kitchen. He is famous for his temper and attention to detail. But it was amazing to see how all the kids knew their jobs…every element of their job…and they each got right into their zone when it was time. Watching them prepare for the first seating was like watching an army prepare for battle. Every knife and spoon was lined up perfectly. Every station team was set up and just ready to go. I had been in the kitchen all afternoon…learning from all the helpful things they taught me and there was a lot of humor in that learning. And when it was time for that first seating, I was politely pushed out of the road to make way for the battle plan. Their focus on the food and the food preparation was amazing to witness.
One of my assignments was to clean shitake mushrooms that had been flown in from Denver that day. Did you know that you can’t wash mushrooms under running water to clean them? That can trigger spores to grow. You have to take a wet cloth and rub it over each and every mushroom. It took me two and a half hours to clean all those mushrooms, but they were cleaned properly. The kitchen staff called me the Shitake Mushroom King.
While at Charlie Trotter’s I got to spend a little time with the sommelier there and saw the amazing wine cellar there. Saying “wow!!!!” is an understatement. The 4,000-plus bottle collection was housed in three separate cellars and featured approximately 1,800 different labels. The restaurant featured a fixed menu of seven courses with set seating times (see menu for that night). Mrs. Tiedemann and I stayed for dinner after my day in the kitchen and the sommelier told us to forget all about the evening’s menu. He said the chefs wanted to cook just for us. We just had to tell them the kinds of things we liked. What a privilege. The seven-course meal turned into 12! We couldn’t eat all the food. The sommelier picked out wines based on the foods the staff was preparing. I had five different wines with dinner and Mrs. Tiedemann enjoyed a bottle of Moscato D ‘Asti.
The whole experience told me that chefs were taken for granted most of the time. They are artists. They are passionate about food…just as I am passionate about wine.
Charlie Trotter did a lot for food and wine service. He would change the food to go with the wine that a diner was having. The next time you go to a restaurant and order food from the menu, realize that a lot of time, effort and energy went into preparing the food. It is for this reason that we want to feature chefs, their lives, their restaurants and their recipes in our blog. We have access to some amazing and talented chefs and we can’t wait to introduce to you them.