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“The most important source of inspiration has to come from within,” Chef Charlie Trotter told the Kellogg students who visited his Chicago restaurant Jan. 26 for a six-course meal and a question-and-answer session.

Charlie Trotter

A feast of inspiration

Chef Charlie Trotter serves up a full plate of ideas on business and creativity to Kellogg students

By Amy Trang

2/3/2010 - Andrew Razeghi says a restaurant can be the purest form of business.

“You have the product, the service and the manufacturing all happening in a matter of two hours,” said Razeghi, who teaches marketing at the Kellogg School.

So it was fitting that students in Razeghi’s Introduction of New Products and Services took a field trip Jan. 26 to learn from — and enjoy a six-course meal prepared by — one of the world’s top restaurateurs: Charlie Trotter.

Charlie Trotter Cheifs
Kellogg students dined on Arkansas rabbit loin with curried ravioli and wilted mustard greens during an “experiential learning” event at Charlie Trotter’s restaurant.
Photo © Dan Dry
Trotter is a globally recognized chef and the winner of 10 James Beard Foundation Awards, including “Outstanding Restaurant” and “Outstanding Chef.” He is the author of 14 cookbooks, three management books and founder of The Charlie Trotter Culinary Education Foundation.

Introduction of New Products and Services focuses on the process of bringing new products from concept to successful launch. Likewise, Trotter must be creative and innovative in his cuisine to provide a unique experience that keeps guests coming back for more.

“The idea of business is to be ballsy and take risks,” said Trotter, during one of many question- and-answer periods throughout the evening. “Go for something bold. You can always go back and do something safe later.”

As Trotter took questions about the restaurant business model, his staff moved smoothly through the dining room, which had been reserved for the nearly 100 Kellogg guests. Courses included Maine Diver sea scallop with toasted wild rice, oxtail and pomegranate and Arkansas rabbit loin with curried ravioli and wilted mustard greens.

Serving up quotes from Hunter S. Thompson, W.C. Fields and even Monty Python, Trotter said he stimulates his creativity by reading and doing things he finds challenging.

“The most important source of inspiration has to come from within,” he said. “I’ve never worked a day in my life. You never work for anybody, you work for you.”

By the time dessert — a warm date pudding with yogurt and toasted hickory nuts — had been consumed, the students had gained a personal appreciation of the approach that has driven Trotter’s success for more than 20 years.

“The level of passion that the people have here is what Kellogg students are looking for,” said Kellogg student Julien Jacquet, who is vice president, strategic technology for the Royal Bank of Scotland and a student in Kendall College’s professional cookery program. “The people here have found their thing and they love it. It’s important to find something you love to do.”

In the fall of 2009, the class visited and dined with four-star chef Graham Elliot Bowles at his restaurant Graham Elliot. Razeghi said he hopes these conversations with successful restaurateurs will demonstrate the hard work and passion required to maintain a level of excellence in introducing new products, such as fine cuisine.

“Creativity is the new competitive advantage,” Razeghi said. “There is a discipline to innovation. It’s not an accident. It’s a practice to learn.”