5) Jeff Henderson
Before he became an accomplished chef, Jeff Henderson was a drug dealer in southern California. Gang warfare was a daily part of life in his neck of the woods, and selling drugs was part of that life. It wasn’t easy money, but it was very, very good money, around $35,000 a week…and this was back in the ‘80’s.
But in 1988, at age 24, Henderson was busted selling cocaine and he wound up doing nearly 11 years for his crimes. Somewhere along the line he discovered something new about himself. He liked cooking. A lot! So he studied it, all the time, reading, watching shows, working in the kitchen.
Within a few short years he was working at an Air Force Base dining facility and soon sent off to the Culinary Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. An inmate cooking for troops might not sound glamorous, but he was learning his trade very well. Only problem? Once released, no one wanted to hire him. He had to take work as a dishwasher, but slowly proved himself and began working his way up the ladder of posh California hotels, then later Las Vegas ones. Landing a gig as Executive Chef at Café Bellagio in Las Vegas, he was lauded as Chef of the Year by the American Food and Wine Tasting Federation.
Next he formed his non-profit, The Westside Group, to help children, and he even wrote a memoir, “Cooked: From the Streets to the Stove, from Cocaine to Foie Gras.”