Jeff Henderson wound up behind bars after years of being a California drug dealer. He felt hopeless and that his life was over. He ended up in the kitchens of his prison and from there fell in love with food and cooking. He took pride in the food that he was able to serve to his fellow prison inmates despite not having elegant cookware and sophisticated stoves and ovens.
“I blamed everyone for my shortcomings. But it wasn’t until several years after my incarceration when I began to value education, I began to accept responsibility for my past. And that planted the seed for change.”
While doing his time of 10 years in prison, Henderson read cookbooks from all over the world, ordered the curriculum from the Culinary Institute of America–and studied hard.
Upon release, Henderson started out as a basic dishwasher, learning as much as he could from seasoned chefs. Eventually, one of Jeff’s mentors at Caeser’s Palace in Las Vegas took a chance with him and brought him into the kitchen proper.
Henderson remembers having to shake the prison stigma at that time. He learned how to stand tall, be self-confident and smile. Four years later, Jeff Henderson became the executive chef of the buffet at Caesers’s Palace.
Henderson wanted to do more with his life and wrote a best-selling memoir titled, “Cooked.” He then started his own catering company in Los angeles and now stars in his own show, “The Chef Jeff Project” on the Food Network. The Chef Jeff Project takes six young people who come from neglected families: drug abuse, gangs, homelessness and creates an opportunity for them. If the young teenagers are able to make it through Chef Jeff’s six-week culinary boot camp, he will provide them with scholarships to a cooking school.
Through the show, Henderson has exposed them to different foods and opportunities in life.
“Prison saved my life: You know, I was rescued from the street,” he said. “I hope these young people can make a change in their life in society today without having to go to prison and take the journey that I had to take.
What a wonderful way to share thanks for rising above. Kudos to Chef Jeff Henderson!
You can see his show here on the Food Network.