Oct 14, 2021 - Food and Drink
Charlie Trotter film blends the sweet and salty
chef in a kitchen
"Love, Charlie" tells the story of the late chef Charlie Trotter. Photo by Paul Elledge.

A new documentary called "Love, Charlie: The Rise and Fall of Chef Charlie Trotter" gets its world premiere Monday at the Chicago International Film Festival.

Why it matters: Trotter may be the most consequential chef Chicago has ever produced. Most portrayals of him come off as either scathing or completely reverential.

  • But director Rebecca Halpern goes deeper to find a young dreamer and culinary genius who adopted a punishing persona in order to succeed, and never found his way back.
  • She also reveals a man who secretly struggled with brain complications in his final years that left him erratic and misunderstood.

Biggest surprise for Halpern: Through nearly 400 letters Trotter wrote before becoming a chef, Halpern tells Axios she "got to know this young passionate guy named Chuck who loved the Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan."

  • "He envisioned a life that was rich and full and literary and epic, and he lived it."

Biggest surprise for Monica: That, in 2007, I'd challenged Trotter to a cartwheel contest (that he won) mere hours before he collapsed and was hospitalized for a seizure.

  • Later that day he would storm out of the hospital and cook one of his most famous dinners, a celebration of his restaurant's 20th anniversary.
Girl upside down doing cartwheel.
Monica does a one-handed cartwheel in Charlie Trotter's Lincoln Park living room in October 2007 the night before a 20th anniversary gala. Yes, that's her toe in the top corner. Photo by Charlie Trotter.

Chicago interviewees in the documentary include chefs Grant Achatz and Carrie Nahabedian, journalist Mark Caro and more.

  • Achatz shares stories of their deep rivalry, and also memories of an event Trotter held at his home to urge the food community to support Achatz through his then-cancer battle.

The bottom line: Halpern doesn't dismiss Trotter's infamously bullying behavior, but does try to put it in context:

  • "For people who knew him, it's going to reveal a side they've never seen before," she says.

Details: "Love, Charlie" will be presented through in-person and virtual screenings starting Monday. Other Chicago-based documentaries at this year's festival:

"Punch 9 for Harold Washington" about the late mayor.

"Any Given Day" about three local women on probation

"For the Left Hand" about Chicago pianist Norman Malone.

More on this year's Chicago International Film Festival:

  • The festival kicked off last night with a drive-in showing of Todd Hayne's "The Velvet Underground."
  • It runs through October 24 featuring films from all over the globe, including a gala screening of "Dune" at the Music Box Theatre next week.
  • Most films will have virtual and in-person presentations.
  • If you end up seeing a lot of stinkers you can recover by catching "Best of the Fest" winners on October 24.
  • Eco-minded filmgoers may enjoy the Green Screen series of films about climate change.
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