Friday, 8 November 2013

Inspired by Charlie Trotter

"I have always considered vegetable cookery the most interesting part of cuisine. ... It is sincerely one of the most sensual joys of my life," wrote Charlie Trotter in his introduction to his 1996 book, "Cooking with Vegetables."

I remember pulling the book from the shelf and leafing through it in the "Special Cookery" section of my local Chapters Bookstore and becoming so excited by it that I think I may have skipped to the cash to buy it.  It cost $70 in 1996 -  quite a lot of money for me at the time but all these years later, I still have it.  It was worth every hard-earned penny.

At first, I found Chef Trotter's recipes intimidating, complicated, and daunting for a home cook like me:

Baby Carrot Terrine with Shiitake Mushroom Salad,
Carrot Juice Reduction, Dill Oil, and 
50 Year-Old Balsamic Vinegar

Warm Tamarind Soup with Meyer Lemon 
and Satsuma Mandarin Sorbet 
Feijoa Chips
Oven Roasted Rosemary Plums with 
Friar Plum Sauce
Black Sesame Seed Brittle Ice Cream
Baby Carrot Terrine with Shiitake Mushroom Salad,
Carrot Juice Reduction, Dill Oil, and 50 Year-Old Balsamic Vinegar
But when I leaf through his book now, almost 20 years later, his recipes no longer intimidate me.  Instead, they motivate and inspire me to bring my cooking up a notch.  Perhaps it's because I have many more years of cooking experience under my belt and these days, I can find, and better afford, many of the more unusual ingredients he calls for in his recipes.

I've often read that most people buy cookbooks not to cook from but to dream by.  Chef Trotter's books were that for me, and still are. But more importantly, his book crystallized something I've always held in my mind and heart, that vegetarian cuisine could be a sophisticated, edible form of art.

It was revolutionary at the time.  In 1996, vegetarians didn't have much choice when it came to dining. We were mostly an afterthought or worse, an inconvenience.  The best some chefs could do was steamed vegetables with rice or Fettuccine Alfredo, take it or leave it. I often just left it.

And here was Chef Trotter's book with detailed recipes, poetic descriptions, beautifully presented food, and suggested wine pairings. Remarkable.

Not only was Chef Trotter a gifted chef, he was passionate about buying food locally from farmers, foragers and even children from Cabrini-Green, a controversial and now defunct Chicago Housing Project. This was long before "buy local" went mainstream like it is today.  

Chef Charlie Trotter died this week of a ruptured brain aneurysm.  So sad.

Who knows what other inspirations he had in store for us.


donna baker said...

It was sad to see him leave at such a young age. I am sorry that his new life ventures didn't have long to take off; I wonder what he might have become.

Gustia said...

I wonder too.