Jeff Henderson is coming to Grand Rapids Community College next month to tell the story of how he transitioned from a life of crime to becoming a nationally known, award-winning chef.
“It’s an amazing story, and it’s amazing for students to hear this story from somebody in our industry that is overcoming adversity,” said Dan Gendler, head of the culinary program.
Henderson is scheduled to speak in The Pietro and Regina Amphitheater from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Nov. 8.
Henderson grew up in a troubled single-parent home in the inner city of Los Angeles. His mother worked as a welder to support her family. Growing up in a rough neighborhood, Henderson witnessed crime at a young age. By age 19, Henderson was running a drug operation making between $30,000 and $35,000 per week. At age 24, Henderson was arrested. He spent about 10 years in federal prison.
In prison, Henderson realized that getting arrested saved him from his own life. Henderson took advantage of the educational opportunities that were offered. He took reading and literacy, vocational school and job training classes, but Henderson found his passion for cooking while he was on kitchen duty. Once out of prison, Henderson’s life changed.
An African American man with a criminal record, Henderson had to overcome many challenges. With dedication, attitude and persistence, he started working at Gadsby’s, L’Escale, The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Marina Del Rey, Zing and The Good Bar.
In 2000, Henderson made history in Las Vegas. He was the first African American named a Chef de Cuisine at Caesars Palace and later promoted executive chef. The 2001 American Food and Wine Tasting Federation named Henderson as the “Las Vegas Chef of the Year.” A mentor and motivator, Henderson provides a voice of change and inspiration for youths and adults.