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Collaborative Conversations:Getting to Know Dani Black

November 30, 2015

For those with eating disorders, some of the biggest challenges and successes throughout the recovery journey happen in the kitchen. That’s why having a compassionate culinary staff to provide positive, recovery-minded experiences for our patients is so critical. We’re fortunate to have a warm and kind-hearted leader in our culinary department named Dani. Here’s a little bit about her and her role at Veritas:

Name: Dani BlackIMG_1123

Title: Director of Culinary Services

What experience have you had in the past that prepared you for this role at Veritas?

Growing, cooking, eating, teaching, being in community around food have always been my joy. Every food venture, farm day, meal, every colleague, mentor and customer teaches me about how people experience food, each other, and the wider world.

In a wonderful confluence of events about eight years ago, Stacie McEntyre and Chase Bannister brought me on as Chef at Carolina House. I worked directly with patients meal after meal, day after day. And, among the clinical team, dietitians and other folks there, we pulled together important threads to develop a wonderfully effective Culinary Program as an essential part of eating disorder treatment for Residential, PHP, and IOP levels of care.

Veritas was founded with a similar vision, and it’s very exciting to see how things have developed on essentially a parallel track here — with amazingly talented, passionate people in every single department. There is truly foundational work going on, and I’m excited to be a part of it.

What inspires you and fuels your work with food and the culinary program at Veritas?

We see the word ‘collaborative’ often here. It never gets old to me. I learn from people in all the departments in our hospital. And, when all the many disciplines work together to create an environment that is inviting, directive and supportive, and the patients are surrounded by gentle enthusiasm, the stage is set for a person to feel safe and challenged to engage in treatment. When that happens, when we all (staff and patients) truly hold hands and do our parts, miraculous things can happen in healing and recovery. To witness that process is a great gift. Sending home a person who can truly envision healing and balance and good things, who is learning to enjoy food in its rightful place without the complications an eating disorder imposes, is just the best feeling.

And, as you can imagine, it takes an incredibly unique mix of talent, skill, and heart for a cook to be a good fit for this environment. Working with and mentoring culinary professionals who feel called to this work is also a constant pleasure of mine.

What is your vision for the Veritas Culinary department?

The Veritas vision is a world in which all persons with eating disorders and their families have access to best-practice care and hold hope for a cure.” Our department is working on one of the ‘best-practice’ parts of that. As we grow, our department sees new perspectives and new possibilities. I truly believe that all of Veritas and our culinary program (I’m biased here) provide opportunities for recovery that are unique and incredibly effective. My vision is that we keep finding ways to help more patients — learning, teaching, improving as we grow. I also think we can be part of more conversations in our communities about developing healthy relationships with food and eating. The more we cook, and talk, and eat together, the better.

In your opinion, why is it so important to incorporate locally-sourced foods into the menu?

Organic Carrots for Culinary ProgramAmericans tend to have an unhealthy relationship with food — I think mostly because we are so disconnected from our food sources. We’re so fortunate here because our corner of North Carolina is a shining star in the nation in terms of connecting food producers with eaters. So, we take joyful advantage of that and have excellent produce, meats, and seafood brought right to our patients. They can see, taste, talk about it, cook the food, and eat it, too. And, when patients see the gorgeous, fresh vegetables, taste the sweet right-from-the-ground carrots, they gain a deeper awareness of food’s place in life.

To be able to have real conversations about meat is another advantage. Eating meat is an important and sometimes complicated subject, even more so if you have an eating disorder. By including some of the very best meats from farms and purveyors we know and trust, that we as cooks feel good about cooking and serving, it becomes easier to have those conversations with patients and families in an honest way.

Of course we understand that eating disorders are not just about the food. But, while our clinical and medical teams do the ‘big work’, local fresh food helps us give kids great chances to learn about themselves and their food as they play, question, and face their fears and wonders.

What is your favorite recovery quote?

“I didn’t think I could do this.”

– spoken by many patients at Goodbye Snacks

We trust in the inner core of health and strength in each person who walks through our doors, and finding what a person needs to get to that on their own is the best work we do.

How do you like to spend your free time?

I love learning history, both from books and when wandering places to ‘feel’ it. I also love music of all kinds, but especially traditional music and unaccompanied singing, and am guilty of spontaneous outbursts of totally random song. I also enjoy the company of my lovely grown daughters whenever I can.