Chef Jeff Henderson: from Prison to Empowerment

By Shirley Hawkins

 

chefjeffCelebrated celebrity chef Jeff Henderson appeared at Eso Won book store in Leimert Park Tuesday to announce the publication of his new book, If You Can See It, You Can Be It, 12 Street Smart Recipes for Success.

 

A follow-up to his first best-seller, Cooked, Henderson said If You Can See It, You Can Be It is a self-help book that outlines his personal strategies for success.

 

Henderson, who went from crack kingpin to celebrated chef, talked about his harrowing life story.

 

“As a youth, I grew up near 77th and Broadway in Los Angeles. I got caught up in the crack game in the ‘80s. As a boy, I got bussed to school in Culver City.  I used to beat everyone to the bus window because as we entered the suburbs, I wanted to stare at the big houses with the white picket fences.  I used to wonder, ‘How come they live there and I live here?”

 

Henderson said he got stabbed in the chest at the Cerritos mall, much to the horror and consternation of his mother.  “She sent me off to San Diego,” recalls Henderson.  “It was at the same time that crack came out. I got into the drug game because I saw the money that could be made.”

 

Henderson said that by the age of 19, he was raking in a million dollars a week. “I was dazzled by the gold chains, the jewelry, the fashion,” he recalls. “As a drug dealer, I learned business skills, negotiation, and the gift of gab.”

 

Henderson was eventually arrested and sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for drug trafficking. “Prison saved my life because I got rescued from the streets,” Henderson reflected. “The Black inmates in prison helped to educate me. They gave me books on Black history to read, like Message to a Black Man.  I became hungry for more and more knowledge and I started to love myself and to be strong and confident. I grew up and became a man in prison,” he recalls.

 

It was also in prison that Henderson discovered his talent for cooking. It wasn’t long before he could whip up a variety of tasty dishes—ranging from French foi gras to Chinese dumplings.

 

Henderson had a goal: to work in the kitchens of Las Vegas’ prestigious four and five star hotels. “When I got out of prison, I had to reinvent myself,” he recalls.  “I had to change the way I walked and talked. I got rid of my facial hair.”

 

Despite his prison record, Henderson said he was determined not to let his past mar his future. “I would tell the employer, instead of 90 days’ probation, give me 30 days.”  I strived to make an emotional connection with the employer. I told him that I came with a personal manager, which was the probation office. There’s a strategy for everything,” said Henderson.

 

The chef’s motivation and passion helped him reach more goals than he had ever imagined. He now hosts his own television show, Family Style with Chef Jeff, and has authored several cook books.

 

Henderson also visits juvenile facilities and prisons to offer encouragement and advice to those locked up behind bars.

 

He said he wrote If You Can See It, You Can Be It because during his travels, so many people wanted to know his strategies for personal and professional success.

 

Published by Smiley Books and available at Eso Won books and Amazon.com, If You Can See It, You Can Be It outlines a step-by-step process for articulating and prioritizing goals and details the steps to make them a reality. “You have to create opportunities for yourself,” said Henderson, who currently works at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. “Never let life’s circumstances define your future’s outcome.”

 

For more on Chef Jeff, visit his website at chefjefflive.com.

 

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