His James Beard awards alone constitute a history of his career — Best Chef Midwest in 1992, Outstanding Chef in 1999, Outstanding Restaurant and Best National Television Cooking Show in 2000, Outstanding Service in 2002 ... and five more. Now, as Charlie Trotter prepares to close his iconic, paradigm-shifting Chicago restaurant after 25 years, the James Beard Foundation plans to add an eleventh honor, reflecting his position as an older chef working to give back and encourage the next generation: 2012 Humanitarian of the Year.
Trotter has long been widely involved in charitable efforts intended to draw students to culinary careers and broaden their horizons, primarily through the nonprofit Charlie Trotter Culinary Education Foundation, which he started in 1999 and which has raised over $3 million for culinary education through fund-raisers. As the James Beard Foundation said in announcing the award:
The foundation hosts fundraising dinners, working with staff and purveyors to donate time and resources, to allow 100% of the money raised to go directly to scholarships for worthy students entering into culinary programs and professions. The organization also hosts high school students three times each week for dinner at his restaurant to open the students’ minds to new experiences, hear from various staff members on how they pursue excellence in their careers and show them that, with dedication and focus, anything is possible.
On being named for the award, Trotter commented, “I believe that giving back is important in whatever you undertake whether professionally, aesthetically or, hopefully, philanthropically. If you can walk away with that as a team member then you’ve learned a lot.”