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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Charlie Trotter will mark the 25th anniversary of his Chicago restaurant on Friday by closing its doors permanently so he can pursue a master's degree in philosophy.
Charlie Trotter's has won every major U.S. culinary award for its innovative American cuisine, while its wine program with over 1,800 selections from around the world has garnered equal acclaim.
The 52-year-old Chicago native spoke to Reuters about the current dining scene, his academic future and his last dinner at his restaurant.
Q: Has it been tough to close the restaurant?
A: "The hard part is settling your accounts, your affairs and in our case, (whether on) selling our wine cellar. Once we are closed, I will keep a small staff on hand. Of course, I will miss the interaction with the clients. I've been fortunate that the restaurant is almost like the old-style European salons that helped me introduce people to each other whom otherwise would have never met had they not been on the same night at the restaurant."
Q: Will you open another restaurant after your academic hiatus?
A: "I don't know what am I going to do. I would never say never to the restaurant business. It's in my blood. I'm taking a break now and I'll determine whether I'd come back to the restaurant world in one form or another."
Q: How has the industry changed over the past 25 years?
A: "Now people go out so much more. I remember in those early days, we had to explain every single dish. Now people are so much more informed about food just because of where we've come as a food culture. It probably started with the PBS (public television) food series with Julia Child, Jacques Pepin and some of the others, then you have the Food Network, then you have the shows on A&E (Channel) and the Travel Channel and things like that. People just dine out more. They dine out three to four nights a week. They don't have time to cook at home like they used to."
Q: What are you serving at the restaurant's last dinner?
A: "Our last dinner will the antithesis of what we have been doing the last 25 years, which is ‘Casual Charlie' night. We are going to clear all the furniture out of the restaurant. We are going to have food stations, Philly cheese steak pizzas and dishes we are cooking up which have never existed. It's going to be a big party with 200 people, a lot of chefs and friends of the restaurant. We are going to do the opposite of what we have done that's very different from the reputation of the restaurant."
Q: You have inspired a lot of chefs. Who are your culinary inspirations?
A: "There is Fredy Girardet (famed Swiss chef). He actually cooked here for our 15th anniversary. That's only the second time he cooked in America. He is the person who cooks in my style - being in the moment, Miles-Davis-like. There was also Fernand Point (a master French chef who died in 1955). He epitomized what is generosity in cuisine and what running a restaurant is all about."
Q: What is your philosophy on food?
A: "Food is a sensual experience that we have four, five times a day. It's the one thing that brings us around the table, whether it's a family getting together for dinner, whether it's a romantic moment."
Braised Leek Soup with Sauteed Oyster Mushrooms (Serves 4)
2 large leeks (white part and 2 inches of the greens)
5 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
2 sprigs rosemary
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 shallots, minced
1-1/2 cups oyster mushrooms, cleaned
4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
To prepare the soup:
1. Cut each leek in half lengthwise and place in a shallow pan with the stock and the rosemary. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 25 minutes, or until the leeks are tender.
2. Remove and discard the rosemary. Remove the leeks and chop into bite-sized pieces.
3. Puree two-thirds of the leeks, all of the stock, and half of the butter until smooth. Cover the soup in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, or until warm.
4. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm. Reserve the remaining leeks for garnish.
To prepare the mushrooms:
1. Sweat the shallot in the remaining butter in a medium sauté pan over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, or until translucent.
2. Add the mushrooms and cook for 5-7 minutes, or until tender. season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Spoon some of the mushrooms into the center of each bowl and top with the remaining leeks.
4. Ladle the soup into the bowls and drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle the chives around the bowl and top with freshly ground black pepper.
Reporting by Richard Leong