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Curtis pays it forward at Carillon

With fundraiser dinner, former food and beverage director helps others with injuries

Addie Broyles
abroyles@statesman.com
Daniel Curtis spends much of his time at a rehabilitation center after a severe injury last year.

By all accounts, last year's fundraiser dinner for former Carillon food and beverage director Daniel Curtis was a success.

With the help of chefs including Josh Watkins, David Bull, Shawn Cirkiel, Philip Speer and Shane Stark, the food community raised more than $70,000 for one of its own, who had suffered a spinal cord injury while playing fetch with his dog on the deck of a backyard pool on Memorial Day 2011.

"It was overwhelming for me," Curtis says just more than a year later. "I kind of knew it would be. I was still in pretty bad shape."

But even with another year of physical therapy, Curtis is still on his long road to recovery.

Most people with his injury are paralyzed from the shoulders down, but Curtis has regained some mobility in his arms and legs. He can't walk, yet, but that's one of his long-term goals. "You can benchmark yourself from life from the day before the accident or the day after. When you (compare life to how it was) from the day after, things look pretty good."

He's spent much of the past 14 months at Seton Spine and Rehabilitation Center, working to regain even the smallest muscle movement. But as important as the physical therapy has been getting to know other people in his situation.

Carillon chef Josh Watkins says he's watched his best friend go through more in the past year than anyone should have to in a lifetime. "He had so many questions that no one was around to answer," Watkins says. Though Curtis still has a love for the food and hospitality industry, Watkins says Curtis' priority now is being there for other people when this horrific thing happens. "Some things are more important in life."

"I went from being a very independent, young, successful man to an incredibly dependent, helpless 30-year-old," Curtis says. "I don't want to take anything away from (what I did for a living before), but I think I want to do something a little more meaningful."

To say thanks for last year's event and to continue to raise awareness and funds for the Lone Star Paralysis Foundation, Curtis and Watkins are hosting a Pay It Forward fundraiser dinner on Tuesday at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center.

"Even with insurance, the cost of a traumatic injury feels like it's never ending," says Curtis, who is still facing hundreds of thousands of dollars of out-of-pocket expenses.

Rising star Kat Edmonson will headline, and chefs including Plinio Sandalio of the Carillon, Asti's Kenzie Allen, John Bates of Noble Pig, David Bull of Congress and Callie Speer of Swift's Attic will lend their culinary talents. Curtis' longtime friend David Alan of TipsyTexan.com is in charge of the cocktails.

"Every single chef that I called was over the top," Watkins says. "They said, ‘Of course we'll be back'.... The food community here is very tight knit. Of course, it's competitive, but we take care of our own."

Tickets begin at a suggested donation of $100, and VIP tickets at $150. They will also host a live and silent auction. For information, go to payitforwardwithdaniel.org.

In the past year, it's been amazing to watch the food community come together for colleagues who find themselves in an unexpected medical crisis.

Colleen Sommers' bout with breast cancer led to the Pies and Pigs event at Springdale Farm in June. When Dai Due sous chef Tabatha Stephens' son was born with a medical condition that led to his death just weeks after being born, her friends quickly put together a fundraiser dinner at Fino last month.

"When something like this happens and someone is in need, there's never been a doubt that the community pulls together," Curtis says. "I feel privileged to have been part of it and continue to be part of it."

Get the latest food news at Addie Broyles' blog, austin360.com/relishaustin. Contact her at 912-2504. Twitter: @broylesa