Monday, April 23, 2018

A business conversation with THE FOOD NETWORK’S CHEF JEFF HENDERSON

February 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Business, Food

By Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud

Cheff Jeff

While walking through the aisles of Smith’s market in the produce section, I see my good friend Jeff Henderson and I’m delighted that he and his family still live here in Las Vegas after blowing up as the famed Chef Jeff on the Food Network’s “The Chef Jeff Project.”
Even after our smiles and hellos, I glanced to see what secrets were in his shopping cart. “The Chef Jeff Project,” for those of you who haven’t seen it, is about Chef Jeff giving some at-risk young people culinary and life skill training that will propel them toward a better quality of life.
Jeff admits that it has been a whirlwind that still amazes him. “Well, I have been extremely blessed, and it is an exciting time in my life to live a dream with ‘The Chef Jeff Project’ on the Food Network. The show is very powerful. It is about giving six young people with diverse backgrounds a second chance to learn the fundamentals of cooking. A $40,000 full-scale Food Network scholarship is given to all of the participants to further their dreams in the business. I am really excited about that.”
Jeff’s own struggles as a youth landed him in the prison system for several years and gave him his initial lessons in cooking while working in the prison kitchen. After getting out of prison, he made a personal oath to make his life better and met some great people in the culinary industry that gave him a chance and placed him in a chef position at the famed Bellagio.
“When I was a young homeboy in the neighborhood, I got caught up in making a quick dollar and went to prison,” he said. ‘‘It was in prison where I started to value myself and my community, and I had a dream. I knew I didn’t want to live the life I was living anymore. So, I learned how to cook in prison, I read my first book in prison, and I grew up in prison. I always knew that in the back of my mind that I had to do

Not long ago, actor Will Smith purchased the rights to Henderson's book and life story.

something to give back because I had taken so much from our community. It is my mission to show young people, people incarcerated and people who have been dealt a bad deck of cards that they have the power of potential.”
Jeff’s power is one that has transformed from bars closing behind him to opportunities opening up. He recently appeared as a guest on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in recognition of his best-selling book, “Cooked.”
“After I was on the Oprah show, I got a call from Will Smith and Sony Pictures and they made a pre-emptive offer on buying the rights to my life story and my book for a movie. Even though it was very exciting, the negotiation process got intense over an eight-month period where people would call my house and say, ‘You need to sign the contract now or you are going to blow the deal.’ I just hung in there and didn’t sell my soul and I stood fast to what I believed in. I was still able to make the deal and keep the integrity of my life story.”
So often in business, there is an entourage of people who represent stars such as Will Smith to make these money- making movie deals, but Jeff states that Will was the person who reached out to him.
“It was Will in my case that made the initial call to buy the rights to my book and my life story. Two hours after Oprah aired with me as her guest, Will Smith called me on the telephone. I was in New York and Will was in Brooklyn filming the movie, “I Am Legend.”
“When the phone rang, I answered, ‘What’s up, this is Chef Jeff,’ and he said, ‘Chef Jeff, this is Will …Will Smith.’ I said, ‘Who’s playing on my phone?’ He replied, ‘This is Will Smith … Big Willy from West Philly.’
“My agent signaled to me that it was him. He said that he loved seeing and hearing my story on Oprah’s show, and he really wanted to hear more about my life story and indicated that he was sending a driver over to pick me up to bring me to the movie set. He did, and I spent the whole day with him and his family on the ‘I Am Legend’ movie production set. His trailer was outrageous. A two-story trailer with a golf reality 18-hole golf course, and Heavy D was there, too.”
Jeff indicates that African-American celebrities such as Will Smith, Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington and President Obama are power brokers who get together like our forefathers did to discuss making moves for the betterment of humanity.
“There is a lot of synergy around the Oprah brand, the Will Smith brand, the Obama brand and the Denzel Washington brand. I have had the privilege to be around people who are in their circles, and there are a lot of meetings that happen with them. The brain power meetings take place where they discuss how they help a particular person, how they can help someone get their own television show, or own their own network.  Yes, our ancestors would be proud.”

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One Response to “A business conversation with THE FOOD NETWORK’S CHEF JEFF HENDERSON”
  1. Through comments on blogs or weblogs, teachers can share their classroom experiences. Her articles held a reader’s interest.”

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