By Mark Caro
7:07 AM CDT, August 31, 2013
Representatives of Chicago’s After School Matters program retrieved students’ artwork and personal belongings from the former Charlie Trotter’s restaurant space Friday afternoon, the day after the chef ejected and locked out the students, who had been scheduled to present an exhibition there Friday night.
Trotter offered no apology or other statements regarding Thursday night’s incident, which occurred two days short of the one-year anniversary of his shuttering the acclaimed 25-year-old restaurant. One of the students, Dominic Tufano, 18, said Trotter “went ballistic” when their instructor, photographer Jonathan Michael Johnson, declined his request that they sweep floors and clean toilets.
“Our boss is like, well, we should be treated with more respect because that’s what usually happens when an artist goes to a gallery,” said Tufano, noting that Trotter also called him an (expletive) idiot for not offering to get him a drink on a 7-Eleven run, offered a female student $500 if she got a Charlie Trotter tattoo and repeatedly asked Johnson whether he was gay.
Tufano said that after the students left Johnson remained behind to speak with Trotter and then phoned Tufano to say they’d be mounting the exhibition elsewhere Friday night. But after Johnson walked outside to talk to the students, Trotter locked the doors and wouldn’t let anyone retrieve their artwork or possessions, including some iPads, Tufano said.
Video aired on WGN-TV Thursday night showed the grizzled-looking 53-year-old chef muttering to reporter Randi Belisomo, “Should I do an Alec Baldwin or what?” — apparently referring to the “30 Rock” star’s recent tussle with a photographer — before retreating into his building.
Three representatives of After School Matters, founded by the late Maggie Daley in 1991, arrived at the Lincoln Park restaurant around 1 p.m. Friday and left within the hour with the artwork and belongings. Tufano said later in the afternoon that Johnson told him it all was in good condition.
An After School Matters statement released Friday said the exhibit will be rescheduled “at another date, time and location in the near future.” An After School Matters spokeswoman said no one involved in the organization would comment beyond the statement, which offered this explanation: “Due to unforeseen circumstances at the site, the exhibit was unexpectedly canceled.”
Trotter did not respond to phone messages and emails, though he told the DNAinfo Chicago website Friday that “all I did was ask them to sweep some stuff up …. No good deed goes unpunished.”
As for the media attention Thursday night, Trotter said to DNAinfo: “Shouldn't these guys be on the South Side looking at black-on-black crime?”
Trotter’s connected townhouses at 814 and 816 W. Armitage Ave. went on the market in early June for $3.8 million and remain listed at that price.
Tufano said “there were a lot of broken hearts” as the students sat outside Trotter’s for hours Thursday night hoping to retrieve their artwork and realizing that their long-planned exhibit would not be occurring Friday. Carmela Tufano, Dominic’s mother, demanded that Trotter apologize to the students and Johnson and that he be removed from the After School Matters advisory board.
“(The students) are in this program to build their self-esteem, to learn, to take something back from this that keeps them off the streets, and then this man comes in and bullies them,” Carmela Tufano said. “I mean, who does he think he is?
“My son, his last words before he went to bed were ‘I must be an effing idiot.’ I said, ‘No you’re not. Just because you didn’t offer to buy him something to drink? He should offer you something to drink. You’re in his house.’”
Carmela Tufano said After School Matters has done a great job of boosting her son’s and other kids’ confidence. “And then you take this jerk Trotter and he takes everything that’s been built up over the past two years, and in one day he knocks it all down,” she said. “I’m not through with him.”
Tribune reporters Naomi Nix and Lolly Bowean contributed.
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