In memoriam: Curtis Caldwell, sous chef at Vesta Dipping Grill, passes away
Beloved Curtis Caldwell - my belief is that your radiant soul is making its journey to the next life and when you get there it will be the most vibrant place with more colors than you can ever imagine even exist. And of course, hundreds and hundreds of hoola hoops in all shapes and colors. I have loved reading all the FB posts the past few days, looking at old photos of you...seeing sides of you I never personally knew but clearly you have filled the hearts of so many wonderful people who have been blessed with your loving kindness. May you rest not so peacefully because you will be too busy spinning in circles, hoola hooping your way around the heavens. We will be missing you here on earth. Until we meet again my friend. -- Jen Wolkon, Vesta
Early last Saturday morning, around 4 a.m., the Denver restaurant community, inexplicably -- sadly -- lost one of its own. Curtis Caldwell, the sous chef of Vesta Dipping Grill, passed away at Denver Health following complications from an infection that blocked his airways. Caldwell, who spent five years at Vesta, was on life support for seven days before his family made the heart-wrenching decision to let him go, and this last week, needless to say, has been extraordinarily difficult for those of us who knew and loved him.
Caldwell, who was all of 33-years-old when he passed away, was renowned for having, among other attributes, the best facial hair of any chef in Denver, and last week, when I sat with him in the hospital, stroking his soft beard and praying for a miracle, I was reminded that it wasn't the first time I'd done that. Late last summer, I joined Caldwell and several other chefs on a farm tour -- we explored apple orchards and fields of crops and paddled canoes across the lake -- and I rubbed my hands against his beard then, too. He never seemed to mind.
And as so many others have reflected on his living Facebook page, Caldwell was a huge supporter of philanthropic efforts, an advocate of gay and lesbian rights, a hula-hoop wizard and a magician -- literally -- who lived live to the fullest; he was a free spirit whose laugh was infectious, and whose heart was was bigger than his body.
"His heart was huge...he was so giving," says former Vesta Dipping Grill exec chef Matt Selby, who hired Caldwell, initially as an a.m. prep cook. "I remember the first time I interviewed him -- he was late, and I have a rule that if you're late for an interview, I'm not going to hire you -- but before I could even say anything, he apologized and said he was sorry if he was wasting my time," recalls Selby. "He offered no excuses, and he was so professional and articulate...I was blown away. He conducted himself beautifully, he spoke from the heart, which is what he always did, and that one interview convinced me that I had to work with this guy, who quickly became a part of our family."
A family that was cultivated by Josh Wolkon, the owner of Vesta Dipping Grill, Ace and Steuben's, where Caldwell had also done time behind the line. "Curtis was a warm, kindhearted person who in his own subtle way managed to touch a lot of people in his five years at Vesta," says Wolkon. Caldwell was known for his desserts, he adds, including "the legendary peanut butter cup," not to mention his popular Monday night supper menu, which he created in collaboration with sous chef Andrew Hall.
"He was an educator to the staff; he was our representative at Greener Eat Denver; and he led our company's mission to be environmentally conscience -- he was an advocate for Denver B-Cycle," remembers Wolkon. Caldwell, he says, also taught kids how to cook, volunteering his time -- and expertise -- at Dream Big Day Camp.
"Curtis brought an energy and enthusiasm to Vesta that was unlike anyone else," echos Brandon Foster, now the executive chef at Vesta. "I will forever miss him painting peanut butter cups, scolding me for drinking out of a speed pour, occasionally prepping way too much of something, the inquisitive 8 a.m. text asking who did the order the night before...him just being him. With his passing, we lost an amazing part of our team, not only at Vesta but also in the Denver restaurant community as a whole," he adds.