Jan. 23: Chef Jeff Henderson shares his life story, from ruin to roux

Drug dealer turned award-winning chef and Food Network personality Jeff “Chef Jeff” Henderson will be the next Speaker Series presenter at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College.

Henderson’s address, “From the Streets to the Stove: The Power of Potential,” will be the highlight of the college’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Week activities. It takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 23, in the McGarvey Commons of the Reed Union Building. Admission is free and open to the public.

Henderson was raised in South Central Los Angeles by his single mother and paternal grandparents. Growing up poor, “I stole from anyone who let their guard down,” he wrote in his New York Times best-selling autobiography, “Cooked: My Journey from the Streets to the Stove.” At 16, Henderson was stabbed in the chest in a gang-related dispute; by 19 he was running a lucrative cocaine sales operation. At 24, he was in prison.

During a decade spent behind bars Henderson discovered a passion for both cooking and turning his life around. In his free time he read cookbooks, self-help books and newspapers—and sought business education and advice from white-collar inmates.

With no formal training and a criminal background, Henderson first struggled in the hospitality industry. But perseverance and a “first in, last out” work ethic helped him climb from dishwasher to executive chef at Las Vegas’ Bellagio. When the American Tasting Institute named Henderson Las Vegas Chef of the Year in 2001, he used the exposure to inspire disadvantaged young adults and felons, sharing his life story in schools, prisons and community centers.

The audiences for Henderson’s motivational message increased with the publication of his memoir and production of The Chef Jeff Project, a Food Network show that put at-risk young adults to work at Henderson’s catering company, Posh Urban Cuisine, to provide them with the knowledge, skills and opportunity to make a new life with a culinary career. The show also inspired a companion cookbook, “Chef Jeff Cooks: In the Kitchen with America’s Inspirational New Culinary Star.”

Henderson’s Speaker Series appearance is supported by Penn State Behrend’s Office of Educational Equity and Diversity Programs, the Student Activity Fee, the Division of Student Affairs and the Harriet Behrend Ninow Memorial Lecture Series Fund. For additional information, contact the Office of Student Activities at 814-898-6171.

Chef Jeff Henderson Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated January 14, 2013