When chef Charlie Trotter passed away suddenly in early November at the age of 54, he left a legacy of changing our tastes in American dining. Trotter was influential over a quarter-century ago in creating a revolutionary style of dining out that is still in vogue today. Trotter perfected the multicourse tasting menu, a radical departure from the standard three-course meal. Over an evening, diners are dazzled by flavors and presentations which hopscotch the globe – sometimes on one plate.
Asian spices and flavors might be mingled with Midwestern beef carpaccio or a single New England scallop. Five, seven or even nine courses later, everyone is pleasantly full not only from the food but from the knowledge that the experience is one not soon to be forgotten.
A select number of chefs here in Rhode Island serve a tasting menu. Derek Wagner offers a set of instructions with the gustatory excursion at his Nick’s On Broadway. Quoting from his online menu description: “The chef creates and prepares a special four-course menu for you. You may choose to have four savory courses, or three savory courses and cheese or dessert for your fourth course. Please inform [us] of any strong likes or dislikes, allergies, dietary restrictions or food sensitivities so that the chef may take them into consideration when designing your menu.”
Wagner insists that the entire table participate in the tasting menu together. These instructions are themselves an homage to Trotter’s exacting standards and discipline he demanded of himself and his staff. There are many stories – more now following the chef’s passing – of his painstaking, sometimes obsessive attention to detail. Trotter would insist his servers know to the nth degree the likes and dislikes of regular customers.