A Dish of Inspiration from "Chef Jeff"

Food Network's Chef Jeff Henderson talks to Beliefnet about how food helped him find his life's purpose.

Chef Jeff Henderson

Chef Jeff Henderson has a big story to tell. Convicted of selling drugs in San Diego at age 25, he was jailed for 10 years, during which time he came into what would be a life-transforming passion: cooking. From the prison kitchen to a groundbreaking position as the first African American executive chef at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, "Chef Jeff" worked his way through the American culinary world. But he never forgot what it was like to be a directionless teenager caught in the dangerous world of drugs, gangs, and poverty.

In 2007, he authored the bestselling memoir Cooked, and this year, he published a cookbook Chef Jeff Cooks and launched a inspiring show on Food Network, The Chef Jeff Project."

Henderson spoke to Beliefnet about what it means to be a real man, why he was once so angry with Jesus, and what is the perfect bite of food.


Is there something inherently meaningful in the process of preparing and serving food? Or does that just happen to be where your personal passion lies?

I truly feel that food is a celebration of life. It’s the most important, most valuable gift that God gave humans. Without food, no one could survive. With food, you’re able to think. You’re able to be creative. You’re able to provide for yourself and your family.

For me, and for a lot of men and women who’ve been incarcerated, food has been a vehicle to a successful transition from prison to society because you’re able to work in an industry that’s open to former incarcerated individuals and, you know, you get to eat while you’re there.


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Talk about the moment when food changed your life.

It wasn’t that I just started working kitchen that day and, you know, "aha," my life was changed. It began with education, because through education I was able to come into the thought process of accepting responsibility for the things I’d done wrong. And I had to begin to view the world different and think different in order to allow anything positive to come in my life to impact change.

After the first seed was planted, I worked in the kitchen. And over a period of time, I began to be praised for the foods that I prepared, the flavors, the pride, you know, that I put into cooking.


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Holly Lebowitz Rossi
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