Charlie Trotter gets ready to hang it up

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“I don't think the city knows how much they're really going to miss having the power and influence of a chef of this caliber in the city,” Nahabedian says. “To be in the city for 25 years at the top of his game, that's unparalleled.”

Trotter notes that Michael Jordan won three NBA championships after he retired the first time, and followed up his final retirement by becoming a team owner. The one Chicagoan whom Chicago magazine ranked as meaner than Trotter in 1996 has shown how to go out and return as a winner (his Charlotte Bobcats' record notwithstanding).

So maybe this is the end, or just the beginning of a three-year pause before an “I'm back” fax. Regardless, it's a fitting time to ask: Did the restaurant and its perpetual ascent up the mountain of excellence make Trotter happy?

“I don't know if Charlie's happy,” his mother says. “I don't know if he's happy. It's hard to tell. He's a complex person.”

OK, Charlie Trotter, did the restaurant make you happy?

“Well, yeah, I guess,” Trotter says with almost a roll of his eyes. “But I'm not interested in happiness. Any fool can be happy. What I'm interested in is satisfaction. There's got to be more to life than just being happy. You've got to be fulfilled. You've got to be satisfied; philosophically satisfied is what I mean. You've got to say, ‘Life is a puzzle, and what I do as a pursuit is going to be a puzzle, and so am I fulfilled?'”

So was there ever a point when you said, “I'm fulfilled now”?

“No,” he says. “Well, yeah.”

Or is it like “I'm almost fulfilled, and I'll never quite be fulfilled”?

“Well, maybe that's where I am right now.”

Twitter @MarkCaro

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