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8 Chicago-area teens win Charlie Trotter culinary scholarships

Joeseph Clay (left) and Julia Monarrez are among eight winners of Charles and Rochelle Trotter Scholarships. | Provided photos

When Joeseph Clay was 12, he made a red velvet cake for a church picnic.

It was a hit.

“I saw people smiling,” said Clay, 17, who’s going to study culinary arts at the Illinois Institute of Art-Chicago. “It’s a moment I’ll never forget.”

He’ll also never forget the moment his culinary training got a little more affordable. Clay is one of eight Chicago-area teens who have been awarded Charles and Rochelle Trotter Scholarships. Trotter, a Wilmette native who achieved fame as a chef, died in 2013; Rochelle Trotter is his widow.

Scholarship applicants were asked to provide reference letters and personal essays. They also were asked about the first moment they knew they wanted to work in the culinary arts.

“I was so happy that I could tell my mom that I’d got the scholarship,” said Clay, a Simeon Career Academy graduate who wants to be a personal or celebrity chef. “My goal this year was to get some scholarship money to take the pressure off of her.”

The Trotter scholarships, ranging from $2,500 to $4,000, are funded by an endowment from Rochelle Trotter and Charlie Trotter’s Culinary Education Foundation. The chef started his education foundation in 1999 to provide scholarship opportunities for aspiring culinary students. Earlier this year, his foundation partnered with the Illinois Restaurant Association Education Foundation to continue administering the awards.

Helping aspiring chefs is a great way to carry on Trotter’s legacy, said Michael Taus, one of Trotter’s protégés.

“Charlie Trotter changed people’s lives,” said Taus, who added that Trotter’s example inspired him to give scholarships away at his latest restaurant, Taus Authentic in Wicker Park.

“He did more than teach us how to cook,” Taus said. “He taught us how to give back.”

Julia Monarrez, 19, received a scholarship last year from Trotter’s foundation. This year, she was awarded the new Trotter scholarship. The Moraine Valley College student wants to be a pastry chef and dreams of opening her own bakery.

“When you’re baking,” she said, “you’re creating something new that you never knew you could create.”

The other winners:

  • Christopher Chavez of North Grand High School, set to attend Washburne Culinary Institute
  • Tatyana Coleman of Simeon Career Academy, set to attend Northern Illinois University
  • Jackeline Mendez of Elgin High School, set to attend Robert Morris University
  • Symphony Palmore of Simeon Career Academy, set to attend Washburne Culinary Institute
  • Kyle Robinson of Simeon Career Academy, set to attend Washburne Culinary Institute
  • Martinique Thompson of Dunbar Vocational High School, set to attend Monroe College