How can I help?

As chef, entrepreneur, director or mom, I’ve come to deeply appreciate the sweetness of those words. They are magical words, the polar opposite of “that’s not my job”, and I’ve spent the last three decades of my life learning and teaching the difference between the two.

From the simplest ice-cream shop to the swankiest hotel, gracious service and attention to detail creates customers who rave, refer and return. Ultimately, success or failure is determined by how each person understands and does their work. An eye for excellent service and hospitality can be natural, but it can also (and should) be taught and trained for.

I think every kitchen is capable of perfect scores, and it’s very rewarding to give people tools to do their best work, and see their pride when they earn the accolades! I have helped teams achieve and maintain many inspection and accreditation milestones (DEH, CARF, JCAHO and NCDHHS) while providing great service and care.

My first restaurant gigs, at 15, were in a neighborhood Italian restaurant and Taco Bell, (back when they made the beans from scratch, kids!) Guess which stuck? From running a tiny kitchen (literally) behind a bar in Philadelphia, to managing service in more formal settings (The Mills House, the Country Club of Charleston), my experience is broad and deep. I even ran a foodservice temp agency, dispatching well-trained bow-tied or polo-shirted helpers for all kinds of gigs in Charleston and the surrounding resort areas.

When our family landed in Hillsborough, NC over twenty years ago, I joined the farmer’s market, growing, baking, cooking and selling all kinds of food. That evolved into Hillsborough Market, a tiny downtown fresh grocery and bakeshop, until we had the opportunity to acquire the locally famous Lu-E-g’s (renamed The James Pharmacy Restaurant). There were so many adventures, lasting friends and lessons in that whirlwind. I learned the value of having a strong, knowledgeable, honest consultant in the role of gut-checker, hand-holder, bubble-popper and cheerleader. Eventually I began doing that work part-time myself, helping entrepreneurs define, plan and work for their goals.

After The James Pharmacy closed, as chef I was part of the team that worked with students at Duke University’s Divinity School to create their vision of campus dining to include social responsibility and local food connections. The Cafe kitchen grew from one electric stove to a full-service dining hall feeding many hundreds each day, and catering every kind of event you can imagine. Along the way, our team:

  • re-invented institutional cooking, building relationships with area farmers, local and regional food producers and pioneers of sustainable food systems
  • dramatically increased the availability of fresh, scratch-made food to students
  • challenged and inspired culinarians who have gone on to do interesting work in this field
  • started important conversations on all of these subjects

“Local” and “sustainable” were still fairly new in the lexicon. In the years since, Duke University has doubled down on their commitment to these principles and helped lead the way in high quality, responsible foodservice.

In an odd bend of the universe, in 2008 I was hired as chef at Carolina House, which was doing foundational work in the field of eating disorder treatment. In addition to feeding patients who are medically challenged as well as kitchen-averse, our team of cooks, clinicians, and dietitians developed models for innovative and effective therapeutic culinary and garden programming. During my time there and later at Veritas Collaborative, I also designed kitchens and dining spaces that function at the highest levels of food safety and sanitation, while being warm, inviting and scaled for the use of some of the most challenging culinary learners.

Moving into full-time consulting is an opportunity to synthesize all of this work, all the common threads. What I do best is see big pictures and fine details with clarity, depth and dimension. I relish the intricacies of a problem, and all the steps of working out strategies for success that are personal, based on your needs. Much of consulting consists of working together to clarify and calibrate goals, and to remove barriers.

Over thirty years of solid experience in problem-solving in the culinary and hospitality world has given me an extremely simple approach. My daughters, and plenty of chefs, cooks and servers over the years have heard my motto in a tough spot or on a dark day:

We'll figure it out!

~ Dani Black