In some ways, the idea of a ‘celebrity chef’ feels like an odd statement.
After all, preparing meals is simply part of everyone’s daily routine. Even so, nowadays the idea of famous chefs is a common thing. But, as recently as the 1980s, cooking was not necessarily something that inspired ‘fame’. However, times have changed. And one of the names who helped create the idea of the celebrity chef was the iconic Charlie Trotter.
Directed by Rebecca Halpern, Love, Charlie delves into the life of Chef Charlie Trotter, a man who began with simple dreams but revolutionized global cuisine. With the birth of his first restaurant, Trotter quickly became a household name and inspired our current ‘celebrity chef’ culture. But his rise to fame was not easy and left a trail of damage in his wake.
In his prime, Trotter was one of these men who deserved the notoriety that he received. As one of the trailblazers of celebrity chefs, Trotter’s unique style and flair set him apart from others in the industry. However, in Love, Charlie, Halpern provides a deeper dive into the man, myth and legend and she attempts to delve into the psychology of what made him great. During his career, Trotter became one of the first voices of greatness in the kitchen, putting in Chicago on the map as a hub of culinary arts. To Trotter, every dish was important and he fought hard to continue to push himself as a gift to his patrons. (What’s more, his passion for the visual aspects of food also shaped his cookbooks and even inspired the ‘food porn’ trend of today’s Instagram world.)
But, what’s best about Halpern’s film is her willingness to show the flaws of the culinary kingpin as well as bask in his glory. A complicated man, Trotter is shown here to be a creative force of passion who struggled to hold his life together on a personal level. His drive to succeed was unparalleled, yet, at the same time, so too was his hubris. Known for his cooking, his fury was what made him notorious to his staff. Ironically, this sort of recognition feels… odd.. considering that we live in a world where angry television chefs are the ones who most grab the viewer’s attention. But unlike the ‘kitchen nightmares’ of today, Trotters wild antics were mostly displayed off-screen, doing damage to his family and amongst his staff. (For example, he even sought to deliberately slander another chef, who was beginning to steal his headlines as Chicago’s top culinary experience)
Nevertheless, what makes Charlie unique is its recognition of the role that love plays in the kitchen and in the home. With passion in his heart, Trotter’s work stems from a desire to show his patrons the best possible experience. To him, food was meant to be an experience for the senses. And his love for others revealed itself in his desire to give them the best experience possible. Yet this same passion was what also fueled his obsession with greatness. When he could lean into his deep appreciation for others and allow himself to connect emotionally, Trotter was beloved by all those around him. However, when his heart focused upon himself, his fame became toxic to family and friends.
As such, Trotter is show here to be both a man who could write countless love letters but also destroy lives at the same time. And, therein lies the complexity of Love, Charlie. Through her incredible work, Halpern paints a portrait of a man who began his journey out of a place of joy and affection… but cracked too many eggs along the way to maintain his relationships.
Love, Charlie is available in theatres in Toronto on January 2nd, 2022 and in Vancouver on January 6tth, 2022.