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


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What do you think makes an effective mentor? Do you have to have a personal narrative to tell, like yours?

I truly believe to be an effective mentor, you have to have the experience and the understanding of the person you’re attempting to mentor. To be trying to mentor an at-risk inner-city youngster who’s been involved in gangs and drugs and crime and comes from generational poverty, the mentor has to have a deep understanding of that whole subculture in order to pull them in the direction they need to go in and to convince them that, you know, they have potential to change.

It’s like, if somebody was talking to me back in the day from the suburbs who was highly educated, I couldn’t relate. I would have had to heard it from someone who understands what I’ve gone through with my life to be able to guide me out.

Have you ever had to give up on anyone you were trying to mentor?

I have given up on some individuals temporarily until they hit certain crossroads to get them to understand that it’s time to make a change and a difference. I was hard-headed when I was young. I had to go to prison. That’s the only way I was going to get it. And some youngsters have to get in a deeper hole to understand they need to change.

I feel that my time’s valuable and many young people need my help, and I can’t waste my time with someone who doesn’t want to accept change, accept responsibilities, and sometimes I have to let them go until they find their way.

Then, when they hit rock-bottom, then all the teachings and the messaging that I’ve been doing with them, they finally get it and they finally say, "Okay, it’s time now. I’ve got to make a difference. I get it."

What’s more important—believing in yourself, or having someone believe in you?

There has to be a level of balance between the two, because you can’t get an opportunity or reach a level of success without both. Building up your self-esteem and self-confidence to be able to go in there and face a potential employer or face the potential opportunity, you need that. You have to be able to convince that individual or organization that you have potential, you have the skill set and the mind set to work within that particular company and be an effective employee that produces that is results-driven.

That’s one thing that I was able to bring to the table because, I knew that I had to create some leverage. I had to leverage my skills to convince employers, whether it was instead of a 90-day probation, give me a 30-day probation, or showing them I was first to work every day, last to leave, I didn’t take a lunch break, and went above and beyond and moved heaven and earth to learn everything that I could to have personal growth in that company.

Maybe it’s 75 percent confidence in yourself, and a potential employer may only have 25. But, you have to tilt that to your advantage.

What is "self-talk" and how do you use it? Is it similar to prayer?

I guess it could be like a prayer, but it’s a prayer to yourself. What I would do is mumble to myself, sometimes verbally out loud and have a self-talk before I would enter into a situation or a circumstance. I would run scenarios before I went in for an interview, before I had a meeting, before there was a confrontation. I would talk to myself about the pros and cons of a situation that has an outcome.

Like, if I go into a meeting to ask for a raise or for a new position, I would talk out both scenarios. What I would say if they say yes, how I would react if they said no? I would play that role out in my head first so I didn’t come off as angry or bitter.

What, in your opinion, is the perfect bite of food?

I would have to say my grandfather’s bread pudding with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I’ve eaten it before for dinner.

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