At the Greens Cook Off at Vision Cellars last Saturday there was one contestant who went the extra mile – literally.
Chef Jeff Henderson rode his Harley Davison from Las Vegas to Sonoma County, then shopped and cooked late into the night, waking up at 5 a.m. to finish his dish in time to enter the contest. Henderson made Smoked Collard Greens Soup with Heirloom Tomatoes, Pearl Onions and Turkey Confetti, and it was especially tasty, considering it was a cool, Sun-less morning.
Henderson is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir “Cooked: My Journey from the Streets to the Stove,” and it chronicles his metamorphosis from committing a crime and serving 10 years in prison, to becoming the first black “Chef de Cuisine” at Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace.
The memoir is being adapted into a film starring Will Smith. Henderson said there’s no set date for shooting because they’re still working on the script — now in its third incarnation — but he’s excited about the scope of the project.
“When you have a film, it’s bigger than me,” Henderson said. “It’s about a message that anybody, no matter where you come from, ethnic background, religion, when you fall down, you can get up.”
Henderson’s crime? He sold cocaine on the streets in Los Angeles.
“I grew up in a culture where it was the meal ticket to get out,” he said, quick to add he wasn’t making excuses. It was his choice … but it’s the truth.
Asked what shifted in him to create his transformation, Henderson said there was no “aha moment.” He said after two years he just decided to get off the “victim bandwagon” and take responsibility for his life. His job was “Pot and Pan Detail,” which he detested at first until he learned that the kitchen help got to eat the leftovers. Soon he ate his way into becoming head inmate cook and baker. He also earned his GED and even joined toastmasters in prison. Yes there is a toastmasters group in prison. Surprising, eh?
But most of all Henderson read non-stop, books like “Black Men: Obsolete, Single and Dangerous?” and goal-setting tomes by Brian Tracy.
“I read books that blew my mind,” Henderson said. “I realized that people who are successful have the information. They have the access. The people who are doing well just know more than me. What is it they know that I don’t know?”
Henderson’s Smoked Collard Greens Soup didn’t win first place, but as far as I’m concerned the man wins hands down as most inspirational chef at the cook off.