There are things in life that are assumed. If a famous chef invites me for a meal, then obviously the only questions are when and where. And when the chef doing the inviting is one who literally put Chicago’s culinary scene on the map, it’s actually hard to remember that you actually need to say “yes!” when asked.
Thank goodness I had the presence of mind to answer out loud. I still remember my friend Les looking at me in disbelief, eyes wide, grinning. Few invitations in life are quite so exciting.
Adriana disappeared only to return a few minutes later, sparkling wine in hand. Was this really happening? From the expressions on Les and the filmmakers’ faces, we were clearly all wondering the same thing. Adriana knew what was going on, and kindly ushered us into the kitchen. We were to eat at Chef Trotter’s kitchen table–meaning the table in his set or studio kitchen, not the restaurant.
Let’s talk about the lunch guests for a moment. We had Lester and myself from The Peterson Garden Project, and then the film crew from Crosstown Productions. We were joined by close friends of Rochelle Trotter who were at the restaurant for a photo shoot for Today’s Chicago Woman, her stylist and hairdresser. So we were not only treated to lunch at Trotter’s, we were treated to lunch at Trotter’s with family friends. It was a very big deal.
We sat around the kitchen table–the one you’ve seen in The Kitchen Sessions–and were presented with stories. Food, stories, restaurants and great meals are intertwined in my mind, for many reasons. While eating, I’m immersed in the flavors. In retrospect, the great meals of my life are those that I remember for many reasons. For great food and chefs (the first meal my husband cooked for me, Le Tour d’Argent, Alinea, a tiny unnamed restaurant in Venice) and also for great moments and great company. Chef Trotter didn’t know it when he invited me to this incredible lunch, but he was the chef for two of my life’s great moments. The birthday dinner for my Father, Aunt and I (the 30/50/6o dinner, one of the last when my Dad and Aunt spoke to one another) and also my engagement dinner, in which my husband and our dear friends Anthony, Michelle, my stepmum Katerina and Aunt Jan dined at the kitchen table at Trotter’s. That’s the meal where I first smelled Gewurztraminer. Moments like that you remember.
The food was delicious, spectacular even. But the things I remember most are the conversations with friends, stories from the chefs, ideas behind the meals. With lunch at Trotter’s, I remember the hospitality of Chef Trotter and Rochelle, and their stories. Rochelle spoke of growing up on a farm, and not understanding what pickles were the first time she tasted the industrial version. She had only ever tasted her grandmother’s pickles, and they just didn’t seem the same food as those that came from cans in a supermarket. I also remember Chef Trotter’s pride as his sous chefs presented their dishes, one after another, all of which highlighted another locally grown ingredient–each offering their favorite. And throughout the meal, our sommelier was omnipresent, offering pairing advice. He never steered us wrong.
And so now, a year later–what do I remember? Chef Trotter and Rochelle, Mattias and Adriana, and the absolutely unforgettable moment: “Chef Trotter wonders if you have time for lunch?” Don’t you hope to hear that question one day?