Charlie Trotter has been named 2012 Humanitarian of the Year by the James Beard Foundation. The chef, who has announced plans to close his eponymous restaurant at the end of August, will be honored at the foundation's annual awards — the Oscars of the food world — on May 7 in New York City.
Why Trotter and why now? Susan Ungaro, foundation president, explained in an e-mail that the selection committee chose him before the closure was announced.
"So it is especially poignant and fitting that our Foundation celebrate one of Chicago's most special and talented chefs," she added. "I had the pleasure of dining there twice and recall meeting some of the high school students leaving his restaurant a few years ago. You could taste the excitement in the air because they been inspired by Charlie and his staff to better understand the world of fine cuisine. We are proud that this year's JBF Humanitarian Award is being given to one of our Foundation's most admired chefs. "
And well-honored. Trotter has won 10 Beard awards over the years, including Outstanding Chef of the Year in 1999. The humanitarian award is, according to a Beard press release, "given to an individual or organization whose work in the realm of food has improved the lives of others and benefited society at large."
Trotter opened his restaurant in 1987. In 1999, he established the Charlie Trotter Culinary Education Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, working with Chicago-area youth to promote education and an interest in cooking and food.
The Humanitarian of the Year is selected by the James Beard Foundation Awards Committee, which consists of the chairperson from each individual Awards program, members of the Foundation's Board of Trustees, and members at large.
Nominees in the foundation's various award categories will be announced on March 19, Tickets to the May 7 awards ceremony go on sale March 19. Tickets may be purchased online.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I should note I'm a Beard awards judge in the journalism and restaurant categories.)