When chef Ryan Van Voorhis prepares and serves one of his private in-home meals, he brings more to the table than delicious food. Ryan and his business partner, Seth Bradley, run Nude Dude Food—a Chicago-based, private dining and catering service that specializes in both incorporating and substituting menu items and ingredients for a variety of anti-inflammatory diets. "Nude" refers to the pure food Ryan and Seth prepare, specializing in seasonal farm-to-table ingredients, as well as dietary restrictions, such as FODMAP, gluten-free, AIP and anti-inflammatory diets. When the duo met at age 15 in driver's ed class, they couldn't have imagined how their lives would turn out as adults.
Diagnosed with Crohn's disease while in high school, Ryan struggled with debilitating pain and the side effects of steroid medication. Finally, as a junior at Illinois State University, he traveled to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota where doctors strongly recommended colostomy surgery. "I realized I had zero quality of life as it was, so I welcomed an ostomy and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise," explains Ryan. His fireman father was well-versed in caring for wounds and assisted his son during recovery. Once off steroids, he started to feel better, though one of the biggest challenges in the first few years after surgery was staying hydrated. After a couple of trips to the ER for IV fluids, Ryan realized that his lifestyle had to change. He focused on a healthy diet and staying active, and soon felt stronger than he'd ever been. "People might think you should look sick if you live with an ostomy," says Ryan. "But I'm in the gym five days a week—cross-training, weightlifting and doing yoga to stay in shape."
Inspired by the psychotherapists who treated him in the hospital, Ryan pursued a Master's Degree in Social Work. After graduation, he landed a job with a child welfare agency working with children in foster care. Years later he counseled residents about crisis intervention at a Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. This experience made Ryan the perfect candidate to become a volunteer counselor at Camp Oasis, a summer camp for children with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis established by the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. After five years of counseling, he moved into the role of Lead Mental Health Specialist for the camp. His favorite story is about a young camper who hesitated getting into the water because he had an ostomy. But once Ryan revealed his own pouch and jumped in the water, the boy followed suit. "I didn't realize that I could be a role model just by being myself and not letting my disease define me," explains Ryan. "Camp Oasis is literally the best week of the year for me."
Back in Chicago, when not working, Ryan would be in the kitchen perfecting his recipes. "Cooking has always been both my stress reliever and creative outlet," he says. Meanwhile, his friend Seth was honing his own cooking skills between time spent traveling throughout the country as a professional singer and musician. Finally, in 2016, friends urged Ryan and Seth to open a restaurant. Because they wanted to stand out from the typical fare, the dudes decided to launch a private catering company, pairing the art of eating well with the ultimate interactive in-home dining experience. Guests not only feast on healthy meals but also get involved to learn kitchen techniques and cooking tips. "We're constantly developing new healthy recipes, trying different hacks to improve flavor," explains Ryan.
Using social media, an Instagram account became their main means of promotion, and within a year they gained enough traction to quit their full-time jobs. Now Ryan and Seth are sought after for everything from bachelorette brunches to fine dining - cooking with or without shirts - while traveling across the country making television appearances, and advocating for people with Crohn's disease and colitis.
"My two worlds are colliding—helping others and providing a great dining experience," says Ryan. "Having a colostomy is just part of my life and I don't let it stop me." From working on anti-inflammatory recipes for packaged goods to a new cookbook, Nude Dude Food has plenty more to accomplish in the years ahead. To book an event with Ryan and Seth visit www.nudedudefood.com.
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