March 7, 2011
Food Network’s Chef Jeff Booked for May Fundraiser
He jumped from the fiery depths of drugs and prison into the frying pan of national celebrity as a TV chef and author.
Chef Jeff Henderson will tell his story as the keynote speaker at the Kalamazoo Valley Community College Foundation’s seventh annual Opportunities for Education (OFE) fund-raiser on Thursday, May 12.
The banquet, designed to raise scholarship dollars and underwritten by PNC, will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Radisson Plaza Hotel and Suites in downtown Kalamazoo.
Tickets for the Opportunities for Education fund-raiser are $125 per person and $75 for students. A corporate sponsorship for a table of eight is available for $1,500. About 80 percent of the cost is tax-deductible as allowed by law.
Now a staple among the menu of chefs featured on the Food Network, Henderson grew up on the tough streets of central Los Angeles and, in his late teens, was shepherding a $35,000-a-week, drug-dealing operation.
Five years of those “fun and games” ended when the 24-year-old Henderson was nabbed by police, convicted, and sentenced to prison. During his 10 years behind bars, he developed a passion for cuisine and cooked up a personal recipe to turn his life around.
The transition was not as smooth as a well-prepared omelet. Henderson, with no formal education except for his training as a prison cook, faced an environment that was frequently hostile, unwelcoming as a convicted felon, and almost as intimidating as his days of incarceration.
Yet -- and this is the story that Henderson tells --- instead of an ambitious coke dealer, he channeled his energies into a profession on the right side of the law.
He plowed ahead in the hospitality industry, performed menial chores such as dishwashing to gain experience and credibility in his new chosen profession, and " thanks to a mentor who coached him on how to walk, talk, dress and present himself " Henderson worked his way up the ladder at major hotels and five-star restaurants.
One promotion made him the executive chef at Café Bellagio in Las Vegas. With another, Henderson became Caesar’s Palace’s first African-American restaurateur. Things were cooking for the former convict and he wanted to pass his personal recipe on to others who have traveled down the wrong side of the tracks.
His best-selling memoir, “Cooked: From the Streets to the Stove,” earned kudos from The New York Times as it told his story from cocaine to foie gras. A second book is titled “Chef Jeff Cooks: In the Kitchen with America’s Inspirational New Culinary Star,” while a third " “America I AM: Pass It Down Cookbook,” has recently been released.
Henderson has also told his story to Oprah Winfrey, on “Good Morning America,” on “All Things Considered,” and on the pages of The Times, USA Today, and Newsweek. Movie rights to “Cooked” have been purchased with Will Smith pegged to play a man who became a success story instead of a crime statistic.
His show on the Food Network, “The Chef Jeff Project,” takes six at-risk young youths who seek to turn their lives around by working for Henderson’s catering enterprise, Posh Urban Cuisine. Along the way, they are exposed to the knowledge, skills and opportunities to a career in the culinary arts.
According to his biographical material, Henderson uses “reality-based education” to help “rudderless” youths to take charge of their lives and become “a driver on the freeway toward their dreams.” Using both humor and captivating anecdotes, he offers “effective and simple ways to implement strategies that navigate them through the detours and roadblocks along the way.”
The KVCC Foundation was formed in 1980 and has accumulated $10.3 million in assets. Its mission is to enhance educational opportunities and the learning environment at the college by supporting the academic, literary and scientific activities of KVCC students and faculty. It assists the college’s students through scholarships and awards grants that promote innovative approaches to learning.
The foundation funds the college’s internship program, and supports such initiatives at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum as the Mary Jane Stryker Theater programming, the Kalamazoo Fretboard Festival, special exhibits, and the “Friday Night Highlights” series of concerts and movies.
“Because KVCC’s tuition is among the lowest of the state’s 28 community colleges and fees are practically non-existent,” said Steve Doherty, executive director of the KVCC Foundation, “scholarship dollars take students a very, very long way toward their goals. We want to help even more in the coming years, now that state and federal sources of scholarships are either drying up or are in jeopardy because of budget cuts.”
In a typical semester, the foundation is able to assist about 320 students, with scholarship and grant assistance averaging around $322,000 an academic year for tuition, fees, books and supplies, as well as for the child-care and transportation costs that students face in pursuing a degree or a new career.
“That represents a minimal fraction of the dollar value of scholarships that are available through the KVCC Office of Financial Aid,” Doherty said. “That type of assistance has federal and state sources that carry restrictions. So do some of those scholarships established by organizations or individuals. And all of those are very important.
“Ours, however, are more open-ended, less restrictive, and available to a broader representation of students who choose to attend KVCC,” Doherty said. “They are what our ‘Opportunities for Education’ event is all about.”
While the unprecedented, nationally recognized gift to this community that is The Kalamazoo Promise is a blessing to families living in the Kalamazoo Public Schools district, Doherty said, during a typical semester approximately ten percent of KVCC’s enrollment are Kalamazoo graduates. That means a large segment of the other 90 percent still need various levels of scholarship assistance.
Since 2008, Doherty says, the total number of students applying for assistance at KVCC has more than doubled.
For more information about Opportunities for Education, how far scholarship dollars go at KVCC, and tickets for spending an evening hearing about a remarkable success story, go to foundation.kvcc.edu, or contact Doherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (269) 488-4442 or Denise Baker (email@example.com) at (269) 488-4539.
To arrange for a pre-event interview with Chef Jeff Henderson, contact Steve Doherty, executive director of the Kalamazoo Valley Community College Foundation, at (269) 488-4442 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.