Dan Castillo | Calvary Vonlea Manor’s face behind the food

Calvary Vonlea Manor‘s Dan Castillo has a reputation for preparing incredible gourmet platters and tasty delights for residents, families and staff. Today we find out a bit more about the passionate chef, who tells us he ‘cooks because he cares’ and loves connecting with residents as part of his job.

For Dan, food is his love language, and he takes much of his culinary inspiration from cooking for his parents who, after Dan moved from regional Victoria to the coast, now live far away from him.

“These residents could be my (own) mum and dad, and what kind of meal or quality should I serve them? If I cook for you, it means I care for you.”

Dan holds all the Calvary values in high esteem, but it is not surprising that he connects most deeply with the value of hospitality. This is evident in his passion for delighting residents, families and staff with beautifully presented, tasty and nutritious food, but also in creating meaningful connections with the people in his care, wherever and whenever he can.

“I love catching up with residents and their families and getting insights (about the food and menu) directly from them. I make sure I talk with them as much as I can”.

Our interview with Dan

I lived in Echuca for quite some time, and I promised myself that someday I would live near the coast. So here I am at Calvary Aged Care, and we basically found each other at just the right time.

On an average workday, I start by mentally organising tasks while reviewing the day’s menu and what’s planned for tomorrow. Then, I usually check some emails before starting to put away early deliveries. I can’t stand having too many boxes in a small kitchen, so ensuring enough space to work allows my brain more air and less distraction while cooking. The first half of the day is mostly spent cooking for lunch up to the service itself, followed by a walkthrough in the dining area to have a quick chat with residents about the food. After a short break, I proceed to prepare dinner and make arrangements for the next day. I end the day with one last round of quick chats with my staff and residents I haven’t spoken to yet. I love catching up with residents and their families, and gaining insights directly from them.

The role itself carries a lot of responsibility when you think about it. But what keeps me going is the idea that these residents could be my parents, who are miles away from me. If these were my parents, what kind of meal or quality should I serve them? For me, FOOD is my LOVE LANGUAGE. If I cook you the best meal I can make, it means I care for you deeply.

Calvary Aged Care and I share the same values, particularly hospitality. I quote, “It is our responsibility to extend hospitality to all who come into contact with us… promoting connectedness, listening, and responding openly.” We should never give up trying to provide great hospitality to our residents and their families. As I always say, the meals may not be perfect all the time but know that my heart is in the right place. I will never give up trying to make you a nice meal. Not because it’s my job, but because I genuinely care.

Desserts are fun! I am fond of making good desserts like cheesecakes, puddings, celebration cakes, etc. However, when it comes to hot meals, residents love my slow-cooked lamb chops. It’s my personal recipe and always a winner. As for what I enjoy eating, I promote a clean food diet, so I prefer meals that promote better health. I don’t eat pork, molluscs, crustaceans, and many more, but I do have some cheat days where I can enjoy extra meals than usual.