A Few Words About Me
Hello, I am Michael Van Horn, ‘The Social Chef’, a man who has a love for fine food, great wine, entertaining and sharing it with the important people in my life. Please sit down, have a glass of wine and make yourself at home. I’m looking forward to getting to know you.
How many people are doing exactly what they want to do in their profession? How many people are able to incorporate other passions they have into their profession, take a leap of faith and have the pistachios to do it? We tend to do whatever makes us the largest amount of money and sacrificing our passions for the almighty dollar. Ever since I was a little boy I had a passion for culinary. You could find me in the kitchen either assisting my mother, grandmother or attempting something on my own because I loved to cook. I had an obsession for making things and sometimes making a mess. My passion for culinary allows me to incorporate my love and artistic ability of photography, my infatuation with writing and my gift of communication to turn my blog into 100% Michael Van Horn, ‘The Social Chef!
I discovered my passion for culinary at an early age and have been cooking ever since I was 12-years old. I have had many chefs who have inspired me throughout my life and one friend in particular that encouraged me to go follow my passion as a chef, artist, writer and speaker. I believe eating is much more than just good food, it’s to be shared with family, friends and special acquaintances who make the entire meal a memorable social event.
I was born and raised in the mountains of PA and my family is Pennsylvania Dutch. That said, we ate a lot of meat and potatoes but my mother was and still is, a fantastic cook. I loved watching as my mother prepared such foods as homemade tortolini’s, spaghetti, and lasagna, fresh tomato sauce, things that most mothers didn’t make, especially the PA Dutch. The PA Dutch eat a lot of fresh vegetables during season and are known for having exquisite gardens such as lima beans, peas, string beans, carrots, radishes, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, lettuce and much more. My great-grandmother, grandmother, great aunt and mother were always preparing meals from the garden and I remember the hard work of plowing and sowing they did to get that harvest. My family took great pride in their gardens and everyone helped to create and maintain it. It is one of those memories I will always remember as a child, especially the yelling one could hear a mile away when they realized a rabbit had a feast. And about the PA Dutch, they are very hard working people and contrary to popular belief, we do not marry our siblings. Just thought you might want to know.
I use to be encouraged by my grandmother before I hit my teenage years to assist her in making lunch for my grandfather when he came home for his 30-min lunch break. Even though they were simple things such as hamburgers, tomato salad, potatoes, peas, I recall dicing, cutting, seasoning and standing over the stove stirring and flipping making sure it was perfect. I also recall the fresh meat and eggs I ate that came from my great-aunt Florence’s dairy farm, Milky Dell that at one time was the second largest dairy farm in Pennsylvania.
So now I am able to share with all the food lovers of the world all my passions through my blog. My love of cooking, my desire to create images through photography, my fascination with writing all culminated with my love of people and my personal way of communication and taking it all social. I am happy you’re here, welcome!!!
- I never said I had any culinary skills. I have a passion to cook, a desire to please, have a pleasure for entertaining, always have a bottle of Cabernet ready to share, an exquisite palate and I love to socialize, what else do I need!
- My Mom
- When my mother first married my father she was anything but a wiz in the kitchen. But because my father and I loved to eat my mother took culinary classes and has become an excellent chef. I’d put anyone up against my mother for holiday meals because they are made with love, and anyone who knows cooking, you can’t make a better meal if love is the main ingredient.
- Frank Sirullo and the Villa Virella
- Frank, wife Cathy and Uncle John, family owners and operators of the Villa Virella Restaurant in the Pocono Mountains of PA, serving fastidious Northern Italian Cuisine. I received hands on culinary training from Frank, Cathy and Uncle John when I had a date with a girl who I told I could cook and had no clue how, they gave me hands on instruction and many lessons thereafter.
21-Days of Prayer and Fasting Created Clarity
During Lent every year I give up a few things I really love, pizza, red meat, bread, wine, potatoes and pasta. This year however my church Christ Fellowship, as they always do, were doing 21-Days of Prayer and Fasting. Something was telling me I needed some clarity in my life and this was my path to that answer, I needed to sacrifice. So during the final 21-days of Lent, I only ate fruits, vegetables and whole grains, I engaged in daily scripture, praying and asked for God to make things clear in my life. The things that have transpired have no explanation other than it is Gods doing. People in my life that were close, played significant roles, new people entered and they became a light. Things began to change within me that I have no way of truly explaining other than a miracle. I felt compelled to share this because I have a strong belief in God. I believe in God, not religion. I believe Gods plan for me is to pass on His word to the unbelievers, because there is no plan B. It is no accident perhaps you are reading this and it is no accident that God was telling me to incorporate all my passions into doing something that I truly love and now you are able to see what they all are; writing, cooking, entertaining, people, photography, communicating, socializing and sharing it with people. And now I am able to share one more passion with you, my love for my God. My great-grandmother always use to tell people that I was going to be a minister. Perhaps this is the way in which I reach those people who do not have Jesus Christ in their lives and I fulfill my great-grandmothers wish.
My real passion for culinary derived from a Northern Italian family that owned and operated a restaurant near my hometown, the Pocono Mountains of PA, called the Villa Virella. John (aka Uncle John) Chef Frank and wife Kathy created an Italian food lovers paradise. When I was only 12-years old my parents took me to this gourmet restaurant in which you had to order your main entrée over the phone, ring a doorbell to get in and BYOB. I can still recall my first experience at the Villa sitting with a bunch of adults bored to death eating food I couldn’t even pronounce. The entire restaurant family had taken a liking to me probably because they felt sorry I had to sit for 4-5 hours with adults when I would rather be eating a burger and fries. I often was invited back into the kitchen during the 5-hour dinner where Kathy, Frank and Uncle John would strike up conversation with me and it was my release from sitting so long. Over the years preceding high school graduation, I had frequented the restaurant with my parents even taking a few dates in my teenage years and began to truly enjoy the creative and succulent food.
In college I had cooked for myself but typical things a college student would eat. When I graduated college and was working as a fashion photographer I remember where it all began. I was doing a fashion shoot and had always liked one of the models and while waiting on the set for other models she said she was so hungry and the conversation turned to cooking in which she said she hates to cook only eat and she asked if I like to cook. I lost my senses and said YES…I love it, hence, the little white lie. She asked if I would make her something and I was not about to let this opportunity slip me by so, I said yes. I called Frank from the Villa Virella telling him my dilemma as he first laughed and said, that will teach you not to lie. He invited me up to the restaurant, where Frank showed me how to make fettuccini alfredo, gave me some homemade pasta and I nailed it, (the dish) my date ‘loved it’. From that point on Frank had taken such a liking to me that on many occasions I would call him for a recipe, tips and even drive to the restaurant to get ingredients that he so graciously offered me that just were not available in the Poconos. Many Sunday mornings I would drive to the restaurant after church even though they were closed, and have brunch with the entire family in the back room of the kitchen at this huge old round wooden table with such a variety of fantastic food you thought you had died and gone to heaven. My rack of lamb, osso bucco gremolata, homemade spinach lasagna with béchamel, salmon toast, variety of fresh vegetables with a bath of bogna cauda and bolognese sauce, were all recipes Frank taught me. My tiramisu also was the recipe Kathy gave me and a few alterations of my own over the years has become my favorite thing to make. And so, this is where the love affair for culinary all began. I wonder what ever happened to that girl I cooked for? She has no idea what she started.
The Italian Girlfriend and the Father
When I was in my early 20′s I had fallen in love with an Italian girl from Mount Cobb, PA who’s father was a wine connoisseur and a fantastic chef. I recall many Saturday’s going to her home where myself, Trudy and Carlo (her father) would go to dinner and then Sunday morning go to church and on our way back home we would visit Wegman’s grocery store getting a wide variety of groceries. Carlo and I would prepare all afternoon for a family feast in which her two sister’s, their husbands, her brother and wife and all the grandchildren attended religiously. I was not at all a wine drinker but very quickly began my desire for fine wine as Carlo introduced me to his elaborate wine cellar. Carlo also had taken the time to teach me many culinary skills and what I learned was the reason you put your love into it is because of the people you are preparing it for.
Before too long Carlo had turned over the cooking reigns to me and I was now preparing Sunday dinners for the entire family and absolutely loving it, so long as Carlo agree to put the Steelers game on TV while I prepared the meal. What I enjoyed most was the family unity of everyone showing up for dinner, sitting at this old long wooden table hours after everyone had finished enjoying jokes that I had become Carlo’s cooking slave. In today’s fast paced society, family gatherings is a lost art with many families, something I relished in. Everyone gathering, great conversation and of course all the compliments of my culinary skills I learned from Carlo.
I will never forget the love Carlo had to share his culinary skills as he, his daughters and I prepared an Italian dinner for their church in Carbondale, PA as a fund raiser making Pasta Puttanesca, Ceasar Salad and Semolina Bread which we purchased from an Italian Bakery. And if you can imagine feeding hundreds of people, not only did I help make the sauce and serve people, I made all the homemade croutons for the salad, Mamma Mia!!! That is when I understood that while you can buy croutons, a food lover who is passionate about allowing others to experience an authentic Italian meal will go the extra mile to make them fresh. The excitement and joy Carlo displayed having his entire family participate in that event and sharing his recipes is what the love of cooking is all about.
Exploring Fine Dinning
The next place I discovered some culinary skills was from Shirley Cavallo, owner and chef of Cavallo’s Bistro in Easton, PA. While playing golf one day with Dr. John DeMatte we were discussing our favorite restaurants and he and I both agreed the Villa Virella. He said you would love my sisters place too, Cavallo’s Bistro. It’s a BYOB, no menu, you eat what she makes, one of a kind paintings from all over the world, antique furniture, two English gardens with marble statues imported from Italy to stroll through while waiting for the next course, eclectic plates and silverware and the kitchen door is always open to walk in and talk to Shirley and Brondo while she prepares the next course. She has hosted dinners for Cardinals, celebrities like Paul Newman and weddings for famous people such the racecar family of Mario Andretti. This restaurant is truly one-of-a-kind and everything is prepared fresh and even though there is no menu, she will ask prior to your arrival if anyone in your party is allergic to anything, vegan or if you would like something special prepared. Typically there are two main dishes to choose from. May I suggest the twice-baked duck, it’s to die for. This is almost one of those places you hate to even tell anyone, as you want it as your own hidden gem. It will truly be an evening to remember. Shirley has been so generous to me and I am so grateful for all the cooking advice she has given me. A person with a real love for sharing her special dishes which is so evident when you enter her kitchen and just watch her gloat with pride and passion for what she does. Make sure you give her a big hello if you go.
Through the Years
Through the years I have had a wide variety of careers, from Fashion Photographer, Golf Professional, Author, Public Speaker, Real Estate Investor, Credit Expert and owner of www.ExcelYourCreditScore.com. I have never stopped my passion for cooking and entertaining. Constantly exploring a variety of ethnic foods, testing recipes, creating my own and altering or recreating other recipes. In order to really be a good chef, you have to love everything that goes into it and never be afraid to break the rules, cooking is all about going outside the lines. It’s not just the ingredients and fine products, but the planning and preparing of it. I truly enjoy not just the preparing and eating but also going to my favorite places to get the ingredients and creating the whole atmosphere at the table. Any time you are with friends and family, it’s a special moment so make it special and I relish those moments with friends and family. I am not one who keeps my better china in a cabinet to collect dust, they are meant to be enjoyed every day because every moment is an event, so to me, I have no fine china, they’re just everyday plates. I have many friends who either own restaurants or are fine home chefs in their own right or even have their own TV cooking show. My best friend Eddie and I would invite each over as bachelors to each other’s homes to share what we had prepared and to this day still battle for king chef and that title will never be given out, we both win because best friends never keep score. It’s just another proof that food brings us together to be social.
The Social Chef at age 46
I have met so many people through my travels and over my life that are food lovers. There are food lovers and then there are, ‘FOOD LOVERS’. I can honestly say, most of my friends are FOOD LOVERS, aka FOODIES. In December 2011 I had met a Brazilian woman from Miami who had a TV cooking show. We quickly became incredible friends and shared New Years Eve together, in which she prepared an insatiable lunch and then a New Years Eve feast that was truly a work of art. She had created a cookbook and some images in the book she wanted re-photographed and had asked me if I would do them. So a few weekends she had come to my home, prepared the food for the shot and then I got to eat her fabulous food. For me it was the passion she had for cooking and you could see the love for what she did that brought out even more for me my two passions, cooking and photography. Not sure Isa has any idea how much of an impact she has had on me. But since we have met, in such a short time we have become the very best of friends and often said God brought us together for a reason. Perhaps this was His reason because all the passions I have have been brought forth by her. I will never be a great cook like Isa, but I do share the same passion she does and that is to prepare the very best for the people I share it with. Here are a few of her incredible recipes. http://www.isavidaysabor.com/isavidaysabor/HOMES.html
A New Journey and Taking my Passion Social
During Lent of 2012, I had decided as I do every year to fast, giving up some favorite things as red meat, pasta, bread, potatoes, pizza and wine, however this year of 2012 I had decided to do a 21-day Prayer and Daniel Fast with my church only eating whole grains, fruits and vegetables. The evening of March 15th, the last day before the 21-day fast began, I had dinner with a friend who while eating had said, I think you missed your calling Michael. She had gone on to say that you are such an incredible cook and it’s so obvious by the images you post on Facebook and Twitter that you are so passionate about it I think you should create your own show. During this conversation she had said, you have to do something in your life in which you have a burning desire to do and use the gifts and talents God has given you. You make such incredible dishes and have such a passion for doing it and you can use your love of photography, and your charismatic way of communicating with your gift of speaking to do what I think you were meant to do. This conversation lasted every bit of 3-hours until the restaurant made us leave and that night I had a dream that she had a dream of exactly what I was to do and how I would do it. I woke up very early and my mind was spinning from this dream and how she said I needed to do this and how. It was for me to have a test kitchen where I created dishes from recipes either in cookbooks, famous chefs, and friends and then give my opinion. I was to invite people from all over the world, many of my social media friends in which we have never even met to share a great meal and who had a love of cooking as well, to come prepare a dish of their choice or one we both desired to make and share in conversation while recording it all. I was to travel to my roots where I first created my love of cooking and cook with those who inspired me. It was so early that morning I had started to text her over and over and when she finally woke and called me I had told her my dream. We talked for at least 4-hours about it. So as my 21-days of Prayer and Fasting has grown close to an end, I have been praying about this and have decided to go for it. I am not so concerned with how or if I will make a living doing this, I have decided to follow my heart and what God is telling me to do, and that is use the gifts He has given me to pursue my love of cooking as the Social Chef. Even more ironic, my 21-day of Prayer and Fasting is about sacrifice. What I discovered is that with using my creativity in the kitchen I was able to create incredible dishes that were healthy and very tasty that I almost feel guilty, as the purpose is to sacrifice and not so sure I really did. The best part is I discovered another way of preparing dishes that are very tasty, healthy and I will encompass this into my variety of dishes to live a healthier lifestyle and I will share them with all who embrace my passion for cooking. The best part is I get to use all the gifts God has given me which also happen to be my passions; writing, photography, cooking and my love for people.
Happy Cooking…Cheers to you!!!