It isn’t everyday that a convicted felon discovers his passion for cooking behind bars and becomes a nationally recognized chef. But then again, Food Network host Jeff Henderson is not your typical man. The title of his New York Times bestselling autobiography, Cooked: From the Streets to the Stove, From Cocaine to Foie Gras, sums up his extraordinary climb to the top of the cuisine world.
Growing up poor in San Diego and Los Angeles, Henderson started stealing anything he could, and later moved on to dealing drugs over a large swath of Southern California. In 1987, when federal and local agents arrested him on drug charges, his life eventually turned around — for the better.
It was during his nearly decade-long stint in jail that he realized his cooking talent while working in a prison kitchen. From there, under guidance from a fellow inmate, Henderson worked his way up to head chef and studied the art of cooking and business. Once released, Henderson got a job as a dishwasher at a new L.A. restaurant. Under the tutelage of owner and chef Robert Gadsby, Henderson fine-tuned his art and the rest is history.
Jeff Henderson is making history … as the first black executive chef at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. He has appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and was the subject of an episode of “Oprah’s Lifeclass.”
What’s next for Jeff?
Jeff is the host of the new Food Network reality show “The Chef Jeff Project,” where six at-risk young adults join his catering company, Posh Urban Cuisine, for what he calls a “culinary and life skills bootcamp.”
In his own words …
“Food allowed me the opportunity to stay off the streets, to take care of my family,” Henderson said in a Food Network video. “But most of all, food allowed me to use my life story, to in turn impact young people, ex-convicts, people who want to have a second opportunity in life through food. That’s why (with) everything I do, it’s about the power of food.”
A little-known fact …
Henderson’s life story is being made into a movie by the makers of “The Pursuit of Happyneess,” actor Will Smith’s production company, Overbrook Entertainment, along with Escape Artists and Columbia Pictures.
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THE GRIO Q & A TIME WITH CHEF JEFF HENDERSON
Q: What’s next for you in this chapter of your life?
A: I am in the process of launching my foundation, The Chef Jeff Foundation, and opening a restaurant. I am also anticipating the release of a movie on my life story Cooked, starring Will Smith, based on my New York Times best-selling memoir.
Q: What’s a little fact about you that many people don’t know?
A: I enjoy working in my garden and shopping for antique cookware
Q: What’s your favorite quote?
A: “No matter who you are, or what your story is, it’s never too late to achieve the American Dream.”
Q: Where do you get your inspiration from?
A:I get my inspiration from people who have achieved the impossible.
Q: Who are/were your mentors?
A: My mentors are Friendly Womack and Robert Gadsby. Friendly taught me the fundamentals of cooking while I was incarcerated, and he was the person who really inspired me to cook. Robert gave me my first job when I got released from prison. He introduced me to fine dining and helped me take my cooking skills to the next level.
Q: What advice would you give to anyone who’s craving to achieve their dreams?
A: The advice I would give someone who is craving to achieve their dreams is to dig deep for inspiration, and believe that they can achieve any level of success that they desire.