Tag: Milos Stehlik

Love, Charlie







“When the restaurant closed, Charlie closed.”—Chef Grant Achatz on the late Charlie Trotter

Love, Charlie: The Rise and Fall of Chef Charlie Trotter, written and directed by Rebecca Halpern, premiered last month at the 57th Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF), with family members, legendary chefs, and diners in attendance, remembering the immense impact of this legendary chef, who along with figures like Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey put Chicago on the map in the 1990s.


Charlie Trotter. Photo by Paul Elledge.

The documentary captures the ways Trotter revolutionized his industry and achieved worldwide fame: the 10-course tasting menu, the cookbooks with photos so lush they were called “food porn,” the exquisite vegetables sourced from an Ohio farm, the chef’s table in his pristine kitchen, the up-and-coming culinary stars he inspired (who soon would be nipping at his heels), an experimental cooking video that was of the first of its kind, the international interviews.


Chef Norman Van Aken and Naha’s Chef Carrie Nahabedian at the Love, Charlie world premiere. Photo by Lynn Renee Photography.


Chef Della Gossett, former pastry chef at Charlie Trotter’s and current Spago Pastry Executive Chef in Los Angeles; Farmer Lee Jones. the supplier of Charlie Trotter’s microgreens; and Michelle Gayer, former executive pastry chef at Charlie Trotters and currently a pastry chef in Minneapolis. Photo by Lynn Renee Photography.

The daughter of Madeline Halpern, a Today’s Chicago Woman and Pioneer Press food writer who once described Trotter as a “magical unicorn,” Rebecca Halpern grew up in Winnetka, just a suburb away from the renowned chef. Delights of this directorial debut are the home movies, intimate interviews with family and New Trier High School classmates, including his first wife, Lisa Ehrlich, all of whom called him Chuck.


Tom Trotter, Charlie’s brother; mother Dona-Lee Trotter; and sister Anne Trotter Hinkamp. Photo by Lynn Renee Photography.

Home videos show a fresh-faced little boy who loved to do flips off diving boards. At University of Wisconsin, he is remembered driving around campus in his sports car, blaring Ayn Rand tapes. Against a backdrop of the hundreds of postcards and letters he sent her when he was getting started, Ehrlich speaks with both tenderness and passion for the early Chuck Trotter, the best friend who became her husband.


Larry Stone, Master Sommelier, and Lisa Ehrlich, Trotter’s first wife. Photo by Lynn Renee Photography.

Halpern, who is currently working on the documentary’s national distribution, shares, “The thesis of the film is that when someone’s identity fades away, they fade too. It is a cautionary tale, not a tragedy, not an inspiring piece. It shows what happened to this Wilmette boy who exploded onto the scene. He opened in a brownstone in August 1987 and right away it was booked solid for the next six months. What happened in that Lincoln Park restaurant until its closing in 2012, and how he was consumed in the end by his passion, is only part of our story. I really wanted to humanize him. In the end he had tremendous health issues and he couldn’t keep up with the times. I wanted to cement his legacy.”

Halpern was hired by Renee Frigo, founder of Oak Street Pictures, to do the documentary. She was the co-founder of Lucini Italia olive oil, which Charlie championed, and she wanted to do an homage to him. “At the time I had never met him, eaten at his restaurant, and only had his takeout food one time,” she says.


Director Rebecca Halpern.

Effective unifying features throughout the documentary are shots of just shoes going up the steps of the restaurant. First, the running shoes—Trotter ran daily for years in Lincoln Park close to his home—then heavy shoes for chefs, then nondescript, all the time footfalls getting more labored. Halpern believes that Trotter suffered several mini-strokes that he kept a secret before his death in 2013 of a stroke at age of 54.

“He didn’t care about being happy, he wanted to pursue excellence on every level. It was a process not an outcome,” she says. “He had his employees cleaning the inside of the dumpster every night. He was totally consumed and at one point was sleeping on the floor of the dining room. Getting everything just right became the most important thing.”


Chef Guillermo Tellez, Chef Bill Kim, Chef Giuseppe Tentori aka “Charlie’s Angels,” all of whom used to work for Trotter.

The film opens with Trotter saying that if it weren’t for the employees and the customers the restaurant business would be the best in the world: “Basically, I hate people,” he says as he prepares for a TV interview. “By today’s standards his conduct with his staff would be considered abusive. He did inspire a whole generation of chefs, now in their forties and fifties,” Halpern explains. “It is sad to realize that the newest generation of chefs often have no idea who Charlie Trotter was.”

Trotter’s first jobs were at the Ground Round in Wilmette and at the Monastery in Madison where he wore the requisite monk’s robe. The popular entrepreneur Gordon Sinclair hired him as a busboy for his local restaurant and soon took off to work in Sinclair’s Jupiter location.


Here’s Charlie’s kitchen in San Francisco when/where he had a brief, six-week stint at the California Culinary Academy. While in San Francisco, Trotter also worked at Cafe Bedford, Le Méridien, and Campton Place Restaurant (now Taj Campton Place Hotel) under Bradley Ogden. Photo courtesy of Anne Trotter Hinkamp.


A photo of young Chuck, inscribed on the back to his then-best friend and later first wife, Lisa Ehrlich, during his time in San Francisco (1983-1984). Photo courtesy of Lisa Ehrlich.

Trotter and Erhlich headed to California to meet Alice Waters in her kitchen at Chez Panesse. In the film she, along with other chefs, including Achatz, Emeril Lagasse, and Wolfgang Puck, speak of his brilliance. She says to Puck, “He was the first American kid to open a great restaurant, to be a fearless pioneer.”

His first hire, Reginald Watkins, a saucier from New Orleans who worked with him for 24 years, shared insightful recollections with Halpern for the film before he died in 2020: “The cooks had to re-invent every night. It was energy mixed with extreme panic. The atmosphere could be very cutthroat. We were all fighting over pots and pans.”

Trotter did his homework, not only visiting American chefs but touring Europe, particularly France and Switzerland, as well. “He drew red lines all over maps of Europe. It was like a General Patton plotting battle attacks,” Ehrlich remembers in the film. “It was Girardet in Switzerland that fit his vision of cuisine, wines, service, and table settings.”

Trotter eventually returned to Chicago, where in 1987 he told his recently retired businessman father, Bob Trotter, he was ready to open his own restaurant. With Bob as the financial backer and his mother, who would first help out in the cloakroom, Chuck opened Charlie Trotter’s (he thought “Chuck Trotter’s” sounded too much like a steakhouse). His parents previously rejected his name choice of “Zelda’s,” after F. Scott Fitzgerald’s troubled wife.

“Opening the restaurant was in part to make his father proud,” Ehrlich comments in the film. “Sadly, I think he came to the realization that some people have great marriages and some have great restaurants. He chose having a great restaurant. And our marriage ended.” But they always kept in touch.

Halpern took six months to do background research and wrapped the film in April of this year. She says, “Every day my work was my bliss. These were 20 hours a day without a day off. On the first day, everything closed because of COVID. It probably took a third longer to made and cost a third more money to produce because of the pandemic. The interviewing was me on an iPad and the cameraman.”


Brooks Yang, Associate Producer; Renee Frigo, Producer; Rebecca Halpern, Director; and Holly Meehl, Co-Producer. Photo by Lynn Renee Photography.


Shaun Harris and Ray Harris, Executive Producer of Love, Charlie. Photo by Lynn Renee Photography.


Sold-out audience at the Love, Charlie world premiere at CIFF. Photo by Lynn Renee Photography.

The final credits detail Trotter’s far-reaching philanthropy: the many scholarships he underwrote for promising chefs, the cooking classes for more than 30,000 inner-city children, the numbers of young people he invited into the restaurant to eat and learn about good food and good manners. Halpern captures Trotter in all his captivating capacity.

Despite the arduous schedule, Halpern continued to play a leadership role on the board at FACETS, the non-profit that connects adults and children to transformative film experiences: “I want to teach children the power of storytelling through documentary filmmaking. FACETS is a hometown organization that opens the world to underserved children and those in the Chicago Public Schools through its classes, Film Festival, and website. There is nothing more valuable. I am proud of the legacy of our founder, Milos Stehlik, and blown away by what Karen Cardarelli, our executive director, has accomplished.”


Karen Cardarelli and Rebecca Halpern. Photo by Lynn Renee Photography.


CIFF Senior Programmer Anthony Kaufman and Halpern at the post-screening Q and A. Photo by Lynn Renee Photography.

Halpern lives in Los Angeles now but wants to be a bridge between Chicago and Hollywood and open doors for FACETS to the documentary film community out there: “I want to have a satellite community for this thriving organization,” she says.

“Rebecca has shown her dedication to supporting independent filmmakers in many ways: one of which is by sitting on the FACETS Board of Directors for nearly 10 years. Her passion for excellence in film has been a critical catalyst for us,” Cardarelli shares. “We were exhilarated to be a fly on the wall while she worked on the LOVE, CHARLIE project. It’s extraordinary to watch from afar as a film develops, questions, reaches, pushes, and finds its shape. We had the privilege of watching Rebecca’s process through this project.”

“Rebecca and this film and the work of CIFF embolden all that FACETS is proud to support: independent voices and independent stories,” she adds. “We can’t wait to see what’s next from our favorite storyteller and board member.”


For more information about FACETS and its 38th annual Chicago International Children’s Film Festival on now through November 14, visit facets.org.


FACETS: More Movie Magic







Forty-six years of film buffs have filled the seats at FACETS on Fullerton, finding themselves lost in the magic of movies. Transformative, inspiring, often rare, and frequently challenging, the little theater’s offerings have shown that the language of film is is both universal and highly personal. There are many who say their best movie memories were made at FACETS.

As Chicago starts the celebration of FACETS’ return September 17th after the long pandemic shutdown, a newly upgraded and dynamic space where communities can gather, partnerships with the film community can be forged, a new café to relax and reflect, and an exciting film roster will mean much more magic for filmgoers.

FACETS. Photo by Trainman Photography.

Anne at 13,000 Ft. by Canadian director Kazik Radwanski and starring Deragh Campbell will have its Chicago premiere there September 17-19, playing again the following weekend. A hit at the Toronto Film Festival, it will be presented exclusively in-person at FACETS, with reduced seating capacity and heightened health and safety protocols.

Board President Randy Adamsick provides a FACETS history lesson: “For decades, FACETS was the place to go to see challenging foreign films and documentaries when they were unavailable in commercial theaters. Exciting New-Wave movements from France, Germany, Africa, Latin America, and especially Eastern Europe were brought to Chicago audiences for the first time, often featuring discussions with visiting directors from around the world. Then in the ’80s, Facets became famous by bringing international fare to audiences across America, often in communities that did not have art house cinemas, through its revolutionary video service.”

He adds, “Today, FACETS will be as vital as ever presenting both in-person and streaming media to audiences young and old while providing a valuable gathering place for the Chicago filmmaking community.”


The Cinema at FACETS. Photo by Trainman Photography.

FACETS Executive Director Karen Cardarelli who has deftly led the organization through significant planning stages, explains, “We’re reopening after having time to contemplate the loss of our founder, Milos Stehlik, and reimagine how to fulfill his vision. Thanks to the brilliant creativity of the FACETS staff, the earnest commitment of our Board of Directors, and the generosity of numerous donors, this fall and winter, FACETS will delicately balance the way it serves our community with both in-person and virtual film offerings.”


Karen Cardarelli.


Milos Stehlik.

As FACETS makes enhancements and modifications as to how Chicagoans can experience a wide array of visual media, the venue has announced many partnership initiatives in the filmmaking community: “In response to a great need in Chicago for filmmakers to legitimately and affordably premiere their films in a professionally operated cinema, we will pilot a unique opportunity that covers operational, staff, and marketing support costs to host premiere, feedback, or fundraising screenings. Full Spectrum Features will serve as a lead partner, by selecting the recipient filmmakers,” Cardarelli says.

She adds that the organization’s leadership will meet with local film organizations to hear further industry needs and identify additional methods for supporting this burgeoning community.

Chaz Ebert, FACETS Advisory Board member, is one of many movie fans anticipating the opening. Ebert shares, “I am both honored and grateful to be part of FACETS’ future and its significance as a presenter of films that educate, entertain, and inspire. And, I am incredibly excited about all the behind-the-scenes transformations that have occurred at FACETS since Karen Cardarelli was appointed Executive Director in February 2020. I know that founder Milos Stehlik would be truly proud to see what Karen and her incredible team have accomplished to remain true to the organization’s dedication to its indie cinema roots while modernizing its facilities and strengthening its presence as a hub for Chicago’s thriving filmmaking community.”


The Lobby at FACETS. Photo by Trainman Photography.

The lobby area has been renovated to give members and patrons a more comfortable environment to spend time and talk about film, and to view more installation-based visual media on its new projection system. The old Vidéothèque has been converted into a café where members and patrons can connect while enjoying free screenings of rare films from the FACETS Catalog. Members will still be able to rent from the organization’s vast holdings of video rental libraries containing rare and classic films. Both the café and the concessions counter will offer new and healthy food and beverage options. Members and patrons who are 21-plus can bring their own beer and wine to be consumed responsibly in the café and throughout the first floor during screenings and events.


The Cafe. Photo by Trainman Photography.


The Studio. Photo by Trainman Photography.

Cinema 2, formerly a 50-seat theater, has been converted into the Studio, a black box flex-space for workshops, non-traditional screenings, and receptions. Enhancements have been made to ensure there is increased air circulation throughout the facility.

What remains the same is the high quality of captivating films being shared on Fullerton Avenue. Anne at 13,000 Ft. represents the next generation of Canadian filmmakers whose work embodies essential themes about identity and alienation. Charles Coleman, Cinema Program Director of FACETS, explains why he chose this film for opening night: “During difficult times, we often find ourselves trying to cope with anxiety, when the more appropriate emotional reaction might be anger, sadness, or frustration. Anne at 13,000 Ft. offers up something uniquely humane and identifiable, as during this pandemic all of us have felt like Anne—isolated and insulated from others.”


From “Anne at 13,000 Ft.”

“This remarkable film is a breathtaking character study in a mesmerizing performance by Campbell,” he continues. “Her struggles as an awkward, young woman managing her relationship with the demands of society, parallels with our experience as we navigate returning to normal during a tumultuous time while striving to connect with a world we no longer recognize.”


Charles Coleman.

When asked what FACETS patrons might anticipate onscreen in the coming months, Coleman says that his position has film curator has not changed and continues to be one he takes very seriously: “As always, I find delight in unexpected places by making decisive choices about finding unusual and unexpected themes in film and related sources. In addition, the film curator spends most their time researching socially, culturally, and artistically worthwhile films and it is so important to provide our audience with the opportunity to be aware of the diversity within the culture of cinema as well as explore the ways in which film has responded to and shaped our world.”

He hopes to enhance the exhibition experience for the viewer, transforming his or her perspective by presenting ideas that challenge, incite discussion, and encourage further exploration of cinema as an accessible art form. Simultaneously, his goal is to keep the varied and complex past of cinema alive through screenings aimed to showcase the full scope of film’s heritage.

“We are keenly aware of our role as a pioneer for independent and international cinema since we began in 1975—why would people expect anything different since we have always had a deep commitment to maintaining our relationship to our cultural pledge? The films that we exhibit seek to inspire, entertain, and educate all of our patrons and visitors about the rich history of the motion picture and their essential role in culture. It is by this principle that informs everyone that movies often enable us to cross ethnic, geographic, and socioeconomic lines to see the world from different perspectives. These are the kinds of films that we have always shown and this expectation has not changed,” he says.


Stehlik at Facets in the 1970s.

FACETS is not just a theater but a meaningful gathering place for its community: “An audience is a sine qua non for the role that cinema has in daily life. FACETS has always been a reliable artistic source for communities in Chicago, and we have collaborations with consulates, local groups, workshops, and various organizations,” Coleman shares. “Our history clearly demonstrates our awareness and understanding of the importance that one must accord to our audience and also encourage dialogue and discourse. FACETS has now made a paradigm shift to having a dedicated space and refreshing our audience with our response to the issues that shape communities and we are determined to promote comfort and familiarity while elevating our expertise and creativity.”

Coleman believes that a great deal of progress can me made if one can establish a relationship to a representative range of communities who are made to feel like welcome participants for their mission: “The creation of strong public spaces means welcoming diverse communities to determine what happens in that space. Film is a public program and serves as a bridge to connect diverse communities with the goal of together building a more equitable and inclusive cultural future. We strive to be welcoming to everyone who passes through our doors, with programs, exhibitions, and a staff that reflect the diversity of our community, which builds a deeper understanding of ourselves and one another.”

Watch for news of FACETS 38th Annual Chicago International Film Festival taking place November 5-14, which will be available streaming to viewers across the globe presented streaming and with limited in-person screenings at the ChiTown Drive-In and at FACETS (1517 W. Fullerton Avenue), sponsored by Sterling Bay.


For more information, visit facets.org.


About the Town in June






By Philip Vidal


This will be a terrific summer for music lovers… especially for those of us who are baby boomers.

Exhibitionism,” an exhibit of Rolling Stones artifacts, continues at Navy Pier’s Festival Hall through July 30.  The Stones have several Chicago connections. They were inspired by Chicago blues.  The album cover for their “Some Girls” (which I purchased when it was released in 1978) is a take-off on an ad for  Valmor Product Company, a Chicago beauty and wig company.  The album cover was blown up to life-size for an exhibition, “Love for Sale: The Graphic Art of Valmor Products,” at the Chicago Cultural Center in 2015.  Lead singer Mike Jagger said, “One of our best memories of Chicago was recording at Chess Records in June 1964.”  Oh, how I wish the historic building that housed Chess Records until 1967 on Chicago’s Motor Row on South Michigan Avenue could become a museum dedicated to Chicago’s important place in the music world.    

If you would rather experience live music, we have an abundance of concerts this month:

  • U2 is at Soldier Field, June 3.  U2 is to play “The Joshua Tree” album in its entirety, which I bought when it was released, to mark its 30th anniversary.
  • Elvis Costello & The Imposters is at Northerly Island, June 12 (“This Year’s Model” and “Armed Forces” are a couple of my favorite albums which I bought – all on vinyl – when they were released in 1978).
  • Four Voices – Joan Baez, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Indigo Girls, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers are at the Chicago Theatre, June 11.
  • Paul Simon is at Northerly Island, June 14.
  • Don Henley, founding member of the Eagles, is at Northerly Island, June 17.
  • King Crimson is at the Chicago Theatre, June 28.
  • Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers kick off Wrigley Field’s summer concert series June 29.  

If you prefer classical, country, electronic, pop, soul, jazz or blues:

  • Ravinia Festival from June 3-September 17. The oldest outdoor music festival in the U.S. covers just about every musical style.  June highlights include Willie Nelson (June 16), the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin (June 17) and the Juilliard String Quartet (June 20).
  • Rush Hour Concerts June 6-August 29. These are free classical music performances on Tuesday evenings at St. James Cathedral, 65 E. Huron Street.
  • North Shore Chamber Music Festival from June 7-10 at the Village Presbyterian Church, 1300 Shermer Road, Northbrook. It will include performances by the Escher String Quartet and the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra of Columbus, Ohio.
  • Chicago Blues Festival June 9-11. The world’s largest free blues festival is at its new location in Millennium Park.
  • Spring Awakening Music Festival also from June 9-11. An electronic music festival is at Addams/Medill Park on the Near West Side.
  • Barbra and Frank: The Concert That Never Was” is at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, June 11.
  • Pink Martini will perform at Symphony Center on June 12. Owner of the eponymous store “Ikram” and Chicago’s own high priestess of fashion, Ikram Goldman, will sing and her twin boys could play four-hand.
  • Tuesdays on the Terrace June 13-September 26, are free live outdoor jazz performances by Chicago jazz musicians at the John and Anne Kern Terrace Garden at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
  • The Grant Park Music Festival June 14-August 19. A series of free concerts at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park is a summer tradition for many.
  • The Country LakeShake Festival from June 23-25 at Northerly Island will include country stars Miranda Lambert and Rascal Flatts.

Even some of June’s benefits are related to music.  Music of the Baroque’s A Musical Feast Gala Benefit honoring executive director Karen Fishman, who is retiring after eighteen seasons heading the MOB, will be on June 2 at the Fairmont Chicago.  Opera star and creative consultant at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Renée Fleming, is the first recipient of the Creative Voice Award at the Arts Alliance Illinois luncheon at the Palmer House Hilton on June 8. Janelle Monáe will perform at the “MCA Artedge: 50” gala on June 3 which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Museum of Contemporary Art and the opening of the exhibition “Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats His Own Leg.” The exhibition opens to the public on June 6.   Chicago Shakespeare Theater will celebrate its 30th anniversary season with GALA 17 on June 9 at their theater on Navy Pier.

One of the most famous scenes in “My Fair Lady” is set at Royal Ascot. Although “My Fair Lady” at the Lyric Opera closed May 21, the Chicago branch of the English-Speaking Union is holding its annual Ascot Ball on June 17. The real thing, Royal Ascot, is June 20-24.

I mentioned a few of this summer’s many music festivals, but do not forget the many farmer’s markets that seem to go into full gear in June.  There are over two-hundred farmer’s markets found across the Chicago area, and some have already started. But, it is not summer until my local favorite, the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents (SOAR) farmer’s market on Tuesdays in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art begins on June 6.

A true Chicago classic, “The Blues Brothers,” kicks off the free Millennium Park Summer Film Series at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion on June 13.  Another free summer film series, Music Box Theatre Movies at the Park, starts with another classic Chicago movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” at the Park at Wrigley on June 14.

June 8 is the 150th anniversary of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth.  In celebration of that anniversary and the nearly completed restoration of Wright’s Unity Temple in Oak Park, the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation will host an open house on June 17.  Once the restoration is complete, the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust will offer tours.  Wright was not only an architect, but he was also a dealer who sold Japanese prints.  See some of those prints at The Art Institute of Chicago’s “The Formation of the Japanese Print Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School.  It is a beautiful show that also includes photos of a Wright designed installation, through July 9.  If you’re making a trip to the Big Apple, “Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive” will be at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, opening June 12 through October 1.  Surprises from the archive were a model and a rendering of the Guggenheim Museum in beige and hot-pink, respectively.  White was the better choice.

Chicago has a rich theater scene. The best of Chicago’s non-equity theater community will be fêted on June 5 at this year’s Non-Equity Jeff Awards at the Athenaeum Theatre.  I mentioned the local theater group Hell in a Handbag Productions in my last column.  Its co-founder and artistic director, David Cerda, will receive the 2017 Non-Equity Special Jeff Award, not only for his theatrical achievements, but for his philanthropic endeavors as well. Theo Ubique seems to get the lion’s share of the Non-Equity Jeff Awards every year.  I saw their superb Jacques Brel revue in 2008.  “Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night” returns to Theo Ubique at the No Exit Café (June 15 – August 6).   I saw Black Ensemble Theater’s hit, “My Brother’s Keeper: The Story of the Nicholas Brothers,” in March.  It looks like this Uptown theater troupe has another hit on their hands. “Black Pearl: A Tribute to Josephine Baker” about the expat entertainer and “It” girl of Paris in the 1920s and 1930s, the production runs through June 25.

I know that it might be difficult to think about hockey at this time of the year, but Chicago hosted the NCAA Frozen Four men’s hockey championship in April at the United Center and will be hosting the National Hockey League (which is celebrating its centennial this year) draft at the United Center, June 23-24.