“I needed prison to discover myself “ were the first words Jeff Henderson revealed to me when I interviewed him for The Common Thread of Overcoming Adversity and Living Your Dreams.
Chef Jeff Henderson rose from humble beginnings in South Central Los Angeles to become the first African-American executive chef at the Bellagio Hotel. He has gone on to become a successful TV host with a cable show on the Food Network, a nationally syndicated series called, Family Style with Chef Jeff and the host of Flip My Food. When he isn’t cooking on TV he’s a highly sought-after motivational speaker, sharing the secrets of realizing your potential at schools, organizations, and Fortune 500 companies across the country.
USA Today wrote: “Vegas’ bad boy of cuisine found his calling behind bars.”
Growing Up in the Ghetto of Central LA
Jeff spoke of growing up in the ghetto of Central Los Angeles, “my mom and grandparents help raise myself and my sister with little help. My dad never taught me responsibility, I had a criminal mentality: Early on I went to jail multiple times and I was stabbed by a rival gang in the chest when I was 16. Never did well in school, I graduated with a certificate of completion and a 1.0. We moved to San Diego, and I started selling drugs, in short time I was making $35,000 a week as a cocaine crack dealer. From there in 1987, I was arrested by the San Diego Drug Task Force and I was charged and found guilty of distributing illegal narcotics.”
Spent Ten Years in Prison
“I thought my life was over, I spent the next 10 years in prison. There is an art to doing “time” you have to learn how to deal with it, it will either control you or you will control it, but I will tell you right here, right now, prison saved my life. I had plenty of time to reflect back at my youth. Nobody ever told me I was smart, always thought I was inferior. I had a victim mentality, thought I was owed something. I blamed everyone for my shortcomings.”
From Dishwasher to Culinary Star
“In prison my job was a dishwasher, from there I moved to the kitchen. While in kitchen, the more I thought of my past the more I beat myself down with regret as I dreamed of being a free man. I began to value education, I accepted responsibility for my past, I looked how others were negatively affected by drugs, I started to read about my heritage and I discovered there was plenty to be proud of. While working in the kitchen food and cooking became very important to me, it put me around bright minds, people I respected as my mentors. People with the right mind-set…”
Named Chef of the Year
“I continued to build my self-esteem in prison reading self-help books watching Sixty Minutes and 20/20. My self-worth began to raise. After prison I moved to Las Vegas, I wanted to be an executive chef. I learned to smile, had to overcome the stigma of being a convicted felon but I worked hard built up my résumé and became the first African American at Caesars Palace to be named a ‘Chef de Cuisine’ and in 2001, the Tasting Institute of America named me ‘Chef of the Year’.”
“I am in the right place now and enjoy helping others so they don’t make the same mistakes I did.” Jeff has become a bestselling author with his autobiography Cooked and helps others by speaking in prisons and schools throughout the country. Jeff is all about giving back and inspiration “ I want to inspire and motivate lives. Food is a celebration of life and I am able to use it to help create opportunities for gang members, drugs dealers and the homelessness.”
Jeff’s Empowering Thoughts:
“Sacrifice all for your dream, believe in yourself with passion. We can’t let our fear of failure be greater than our desire to achieve. At the end of the day it’s all about the choice’s you make.”
Do you agree with: “The first step of shaping your life is responsibility” and Jeff’s advice for THE COMMON THREAD readers: “Sacrifice all for your dream, believe in yourself with passion”?
Copyright 2015 Jerry Gladstone