good: ‘Hey, Jeff, great Salisbury steak, man!’ ‘Great cake!’” Henderson ended up serving eight-and-a-half years of his
sentence, in a few different facilities. Wherever he went, he cooked. At Federal Prison Camp Nellis in Las Vegas, he worked his way up to running the kitchen, under the mentor- ship of a man named Friendly whose fried-chicken recipe Henderson still uses today. In Sheridan, Ore., where Hender- son was enrolled in a drug-treatment programstrictly to get time knocked off his sentence, he took over the bakery. In his free time, he studied cookbooks, cribbing and copying recipes he liked even as he developed his own style. He also read self- help books and newspapers, and talked to white-collar inmates—many of themWall Street guys—about becoming something more than he’d been in his previous life. Indeed, Henderson grew in a number of different ways
while he was behind bars. At Terminal Island, he began developing his mind thanks to conversations and book talk with an intellectual Nation of Islam member named Kevin X and with a former Black Liberation Army member named Imze. Henderson also earned his GED, joined Toastmasters to work on his public-speaking skills, and cofounded a group called the Black CulturalWorkshop, a “think tank,” he writes, “where on Sunday we invited the best minds in the compound from all religious and racial backgrounds to discuss philosophy, religion, and current events.” Not long before he was scheduled to be released, his
counselor at Sheridan showed him a USA Today article about prominent African-American chefs, and Henderson immediately wrote a letter to one ofthem—Robert Gadsby, who was opening a new restaurant for progressive American cuisine in Los Angeles. Henderson didn’t hear anything back, but after he was released in October 1996, he had no com- punction about showing up in Gadsby’s kitchen and asking for a job. “He was my target,” Henderson said in our inter- view. “I knew that if I found him, I would get next to him.” After some initial reluctance, Gadsby hired him as a dishwasher. That was Henderson’s foot in the door of big- time, serious cooking, and he was determined to make the most of it by working harder than anyone else in the kitchen. Under Gadsby’s tutelage, he soon moved from dishwashing, to the prep station, to desserts and pastries. From his prison mentors, he learned cooking as a process and a technique; as a logistical challenge as much as any- thing else. From Gadsby, he learned cooking as an art form. He also learned how to carry himself as a profes- sional, to work with people from all backgrounds, and to be comfortable mingling with Gadsby’s affluent clientele.
Jeff Henderson will deliver a General Session presentation arranged by Keppler Speakers at the PCMA 2011 Education Conference in Baltimore next month. For more information, visitwww.pcma.org/educon. To learn more about Jeff Henderson, visit www.chefjeffcooked.com.