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.
BY: Holly Lebowitz Rossi
In Cooked, you talk about how during your trial, you sang a hymn to comfort yourself: "Jesus, I Know You’re Gonna Make A Way For Me." You write later, though, that while you were in jail, you became angry with Jesus. What is your faith life like today?
At the time when I talked about "Jesus, I Know You’re Gonna Make A Way For Me," my life was in the hands of a juror. And when I was found guilty and sent to prison, I became bitter and had disbelief in God.
Over a period of time, I come to the realization that this was part of God’s plan to get me at the point I’m in my life today, and it became a blessing in disguise. But it took trial-and-error and growth and development personally to be able to understand why I was put in that situation because, even when I was on the streets, I was a non-violent person. I cared about people. I had a heart. I had a certain level of consciousness. And, you know, I had to go to prison to find myself, to be able to teach and do the things that I do today.
I am a believer in God, and I am a Christian. And it’s by the grace of God that I’ve made it this far, to live to be 44 years old. I truly believe that my success is directly tied to God’s work, which is rescuing, motivating, inspiring, and uplifting people of all races and from all different communities.
Do you think religious faith is important for at-risk youth, or is having passion enough?
Yeah, I think having a connection to a sort of spirituality that works for you makes you a better person. Young people today just have a disregard for religion and spiritual faith because they’re disgruntled with the churches, the preachers and the lifestyles of some of these mega-churches.
I believe that, in order to bring a young person who comes from adverse backgrounds, who has no confidence and hope in themselves or this country, that you have to work on changing their thought process first.
How do you define manhood?
In my former life, I defined manhood by having the most cars, the most beautiful women, money which brought status and credibility in my circle and in the world that I was living in.
Today, I define a man as a person, a man of purpose, a man of structure, a man of conviction, someone who values his family, his children, his community, and is not valued by what he has materialistically.
Having missed out on having loving male figures in your life as a young man, how do you show love to your wife and children, to the young people that you mentor?
I try to give them what I never got. I’ve seen and been around examples of love and fatherhood. When I speak to young men especially, and my sons, I hug them. I encourage them. I reinforce them. You know, I let them know that I believe in them and I see potential.
I know the smile that it brings to a young man’s face when I tell them I love him and I care about him, and I see potential in him. And I truly believe the foundation of change and success, whether it’s fatherhood, personal, or professional success, is that you have to find your purpose before you can have a dream. And, you know, once you do that, then things begin to manifest in your life.
What do you think is the first most basic thing that a kid who’s heading toward trouble needs to hear to make them change course?
Tough love talk about the consequences of making bad choices, because a lot of young people make wrong choices as far as gangs, drugs, and crime, but they don’t know the consequence. They don’t know the outcome. They don’t know the impact it has on community, on victims.
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