Division of Juvenile Justice

Food Manager Jeff Black leaves sweet and savory legacy at Ventura youth facility

California Men’s Colony is next stop for culinary professional

By Karette Fussell

According to Superintendent Kenneth Fewer and Business Manager John Branch, Ventura Youth Correctional Facility food manager Jeff Black has “made miracles happen.” This fall, Black will also be recognized as the DJJ Professional of the Year during the annual Medal of Valor ceremony.

Man wearing tie holds a tray of rolls along with two young men in white clothing. They are standing in a kitchen.
Jeff Black, center, food manager at Ventura Youth Correctional Facility, is joining the team at California Men’s Colony.

In addition to managing Central Kitchen operations at the youth facility, Jeff Black activated the Ventura Training Center’s Culinary Department, located next door.  He represented the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and was tasked with opening the kitchen and feeding operations for the Ventura Training Culinary Center, a Parole Program which is a joint venture with CalFIRE, the Division of Adult and Parole Operations, California Conservation Corps and DJJ.

Black was involved with every aspect of this undertaking which included everything from assessing replacement of kitchen equipment and hiring staff to run the kitchen. It operates seven days each week with two shifts from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m.  Among the obstacles he overcame involved on-going staffing and supervision shortages. Working with the Ventura Training Center Management Team, he has done everything to make sure their needs were met. His staff were responsible for feeding training center participants, fire crews and staff. 

Despite deadlines, timetables and expectations, major renovations were successfully undertaken as Black and his team worked with CalFIRE to bring the previous campsite’s gastronomic infrastructure up to a state-of-the-art cooking facility, installing equipment on par with restaurant food preparation trends. The effort makes it possible for nutritious and delicious meals to be prepared for a force of over 100, including staff and participants in the CalFIRE Parole Program.

Due to ongoing staff shortages, Black on average worked over 100 hours of overtime per month to cover and assist staff, often working through weekends. Black is not eligible for overtime compensation, but worked all those extra hours because of his commitment and work ethic.  As a result, he has made Ventura Training Center Food Services a highly successful operation.

Black establishes and maintains exemplary relationships with everyone he encounters and he is extremely professional with everyone he has trained. Also, kitchen staff morale at VYCF has been up since Black has been here.  

“A spirit of collaboration, intelligence, integrity, courage, strength and leadership are some of the characteristics that immediately come to mind when the name Jeff Black is mentioned,” said VYCF Superintendent Kenneth Fewer. 

Last year he was recognized as Manager of the Year. Black has an ability to navigate culinary challenges on a daily basis at Ventura Youth Correctional Facility, while seamlessly implementing long term projects..  

“The countless hours, time and energy Mr. Black expended on this project, not to mention his masterful orchestration, organization and delegation of resources and providing effective guidance and leadership to staff; is nothing short of remarkable,” said VYCF Business Manager John Branch. “ Mr. Black leads by example, and is never afraid to roll up his own sleeves to get the job done.”    

At VYCF, not only is it a priority for Black and his team to prepare healthy meals that meet national guidelines for health and nutrition, he also tries to keep up a menu that is acceptable to a finicky adolescent population. Black’s menus are nutritiously sound with staples such as vegetables, legumes, proteins and fruits, but he’s also mindful of foods that are fun like fajitas, burritos, chicken tacos and potato wedges. It’s part of an Incentive Menu for the youth population. 

The next step in his correctional career will be as a Correctional Food Manager at the California Men’s Colony.