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.

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You never had a culinary school education, but you provide a culinary education for the crew members on The Chef Jeff Project if they complete the program.

Yes. They all win a two-year scholarship at the Art Institute.

How do you compare the value of official school education as opposed to what you can learn on jobs from mentors, from books?

Well, what I missed is the culinary terminology, better understanding of the science of cooking, the historical aspects of foods, proper cooking technique and things like that. I got on-the-job training, but there still were a lot of pieces that I missed, so I had to pick up on those by reading culinary curriculum and culinary books that were mandatory usage in the top culinary schools.

It’s one of the reasons why I want to give the young people scholarships to school versus money or gadgets and trinkets, because one day, when they find a point in their life they want to give back or reach back and give the same opportunity to someone that I gave them, they have the credentials to be able to teach in a culinary school. I don’t have the credentials to teach in a culinary school because I don’t have a diploma in culinary arts.


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.

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Holly Lebowitz Rossi
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