Top chefs are restaurant royalty - the poets and divas of food - and the kitchen is their stage. We've often wondered, though, are they really just like you and me, merely with a different job? So we decided to sit down for a chat with some of the world's crème de la cuisine, and we ended up discovering just how normal they really are.

Illustrations by Josh Cochran.

Charlie Trotter

Adventurous, self-taught chef Charlie Trotter - owner of the eponymous restaurant in Chicago­ - has just completed a spa-cuisine menu for the One & Only Palmilla Resort in Los Cabos, Mexico (also home to his other eatery, C). His companion spa-cuisine cookbook will hit the shelves just in time for the holidays.

Describe the moment you knew you wanted to be a chef.

I was 17 years old, and it was my junior prom. I went to Chicago's then-legendary restaurant the Bakery. Chef Louis Szathmary came to the table to chat with my date and me - and that one interaction with him changed my life!

What one dish is always on your holiday table?

Beluga caviar and Krug!

What snack would you leave on a plate for Santa Claus, to really tempt him?

I'd leave him a little pot of truffled cassoulet, because it's cold outside and we've got to keep him warm.

Describe a holiday food memory from your childhood.

Holiday feasts always included loads of relatives, all bringing their special dish. I remember my grandmother's warm German potato salad at Christmastime.

What ingredient can you not live without?

Red Burgundy!

What is your favorite kitchen gadget?

My Vita-Mix mixer.

Describe the last meal you ate.

Fabulous sushi at one of my most favorite restaurants, Sushi Samba Rio, here in Chicago.

What do you prepare at home for yourself and for your family?

Pasta, pasta, and more pasta.