Serving famous people is nothing new to Chef Samuel Morgante, of Williamsport. As a former White House chef, he's used to serving meals to presidents, kings and celebrities.
But on Veterans Day last year, the chef was busy with a different menu - making vodka shots, hot wings and pasta for Chelsea Handler on her late-night television show, "Chelsea Lately," to promote his latest venture, Heroes Vodka.
"Twenty-five percent of the proceeds from each bottle of Heroes Vodka go to AMVETS to directly serve our veterans," Morgante said. "It's a gluten-free, glycerin-free product that is four times distilled in the same plant as Jack Daniels. It's made in the USA - in Tennessee - and was released on Veterans Day, 11-11-11." Heroes Vodka now is available in Pennsylvania and he's beginning to promote it in the Williamsport area.
Shown is a still from the “Chelsea?Lately” show on E!, where Chef Samuel Morgante (above), of Williamsport, appeared on Veterans Day last year to promote his latest venture, Heroes Vodka.
As a retired Naval officer, Morgante is proud to support his fellow veterans. He served as a White House chef under President George W. Bush and received several commendation, achievement, conduct and service medals and awards.
A native of Danville, Morgante began his culinary career at Perkins, where he worked as a line cook while he was in high school.
"When I was working under a Navy chef, I asked him, 'where should I go if I want to cook for the president?' " he recalled. "He told me to join the Navy, because all chefs are active-duty military - a tradition that started with President Truman."
So Morgante took his advice, joined the Navy and graduated from the First Coast Technical Institute of Culinary Arts in St. Augustine, Fla.
"The White House sends recruiters throughout the world, looking for the top Navy chefs. We have the highest clearances and go through a rigorous recruitment process," he said. As a culinary specialist in the Navy, he was assigned to numerous ships and submarines, and has personally served the King and Prince of Jordan.
After he was selected to Bush's administration, he spent more than 200 days on 70 domestic and overseas presidential trips supporting the President and the First Family with personalized culinary services.
"I cooked holiday meals and state dinners," he said of his service. "My favorite recipe to make the president was barbecue beef brisket, which was a personal recipe. The worst was peanut butter and honey sandwiches."
His round-the-clock service for the president didn't go unnoticed. From 2003-05, he was awarded the Five Star Diamond Award from the International Food Service Organization for his assignment with the Presidential Food Service.
"My tenure is indefinite - I can be called back at any time for President Obama," Morgante said. "It's a fraternity - once you're in, you're in for life because of all the required clearances."
Since his retirement from the Navy in 2005, he's been busy with a civilian career that included working at the Nittany Lion Inn in State College, and companies such as ARAMARK, the Village at Penn State and Pennsylvania College of Technology, where he was the former executive chef of dining services.
Now, he's venturing into the world of television through Presidential Chef Productions, with upcoming appearances on television shows such as "The Chew" and "Good Morning America" and a possible show through HGTVHGTV and another network based in South Carolina.
"We had a lot of positive reaction from Chelsea, so it's going to take off," he said.
He's even working with the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., to create a presidential culinary museum that would feature White House china, recipes and the many artifacts received by the presidents.
But for now, Morgante is staying busy as a Realtor with Gray Stone Realty and promoting Presidential Chef Productions, where he offers cooking classes and shows, educational events, guest appearances, and food and wine shows. He's also working with local restaurants to offer private "White House Chef Experience" dinners for small groups of 15-20 people.
Morgante continues to do local fundraisers and events with the American Legions to support veterans. He also spends his time judging local and national cooking events and recently was featured in a California magazine. And while he spent years serving meals all over the world and cooking for the First Family, he is relishing his break from the kitchen.
"I enjoy when other people cook for me," he said.