Speaking on the record for the first time since he was injured in the May Amtrak derailment, acclaimed chef Eli Kulp discusses the severe spinal injury that has paralyzed him, and gives more details about his recovery. He says of the night of the accident that, following an unusually slow night of service at Philadelphia’s Fork, one of two restaurants he operates with business partner Ellen Yin, he caught an early train back to New York, where he lives with his wife and child, when that train suddenly derailed just minutes into service. The incident occurred as the train rounded a corner going 106 mph in a 50 mph zone, tossing Kulp at a luggage rack, against which he hit his neck. Trying, but unable to move, the chef says, “I immediately knew I was paralyzed.”
Two months later, Kulp is confined to a hospital room in NYU’s Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine. Unable to use his legs, he has limited movement in his arms and there’s no guarantee that his condition is going to improve. Dr. Howard Riina, a neurosurgeon with NYU who treated Kulp, said that recovery from these kinds of injuries is unpredictable and that, “it’s quite possible and most likely that he’s not going to walk again and he’s going to have limited, if any, use of his hands.”
Last month, the chef filed a negligence lawsuit against Amtrak, which stopped paying for his rehabilitation in June; according to the Post, his health insurance has paid for his care but “he will face thousands in bills for specialized equipment and other treatments.” It’s a horrible thing to happen to anyone, but particularly a rising chef who was set to fulfill a lifelong dream and open a branch of High Street on Market in Manhattan.
The kitchen community, though, has rallied around Kulp. Last week, Philadelphia chefs raised $130,000 to go toward his rehabilitation costs, and a number of restaurants, including his former employers Major Food Group’s newest Parm, have contributed to a GoFundMe campaign. Tonight, Del Posto will host another star-studded fund-raiser for the chef, who, despite the severity of the setback, says his “dream has come true. Obviously it’s coming to fruition in a different way than expected.”