Tuesday, October 14, 2008

One Hell of a Transition

In today's Washington Post, Jennifer Huget profiles Jeff Henderson, the former drug dealer who has become a rising-star chef with his own TV show on the Food Network. Here are excerpts:

. . . It's been just about 11 years since [Henderson] was released from a 10-year prison sentence for dealing cocaine (and bringing in a profit of some $35,000 a week).

He went into jail a 24-year-old criminal. He emerged a chef. Now executive chef at Las Vegas's Cafe Bellagio and author of a best-selling memoir ("Cooked: From the Streets to the Stove, from Cocaine to Foie Gras") and a new cookbook ("Chef Jeff Cooks," Scribner, $30), Henderson attributes his conversion to his jail-time discovery of cooking.

His failure to show up for litter pickup duty one day had him banished to the kitchen, where he learned to cook within the confines of the prison's limited menu and established himself as a reliable, even standout, member of the kitchen team.

. . . On his new (TV) show, Henderson works with six young people whose lives -- some marked by abusive home situations, one marred by drug addiction -- aren't too different from his own early adulthood. He laughs as he talks about introducing them to raw oysters; his requirement that they each swallow one whole met mostly with revulsion . . .

"I challenge the kids to taste, taste, taste," Henderson says, nudging them toward healthful foods. "

A lot of them had never seen yellow squash, heirloom tomatoes, yellow cauliflower" -- those nutrient-dense, richly colored vegetables that brighten the food pyramid. "It's all about education and exposure," he adds. "Exposure is the foundation of change. You have to experiment, try different things that are outside your traditional ethnic or childhood palette.

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