Chef Jeff Cooks

chefjeffcooks If I had to choose between working in a kitchen for Gordon Ramsay or Jeff Henderson, I’d have a very difficult time making that choice – for many reasons. Ramsay is a kitchen king, a wealth of knowledge, a food god. Henderson is a teacher, a coach, a mentor. Now if Thomas Keller was a choice, well, don’t be silly. My bags are packed.

In 2008, Caressa and I faithfully watched The Chef Jeff Project on the Food Network. In the show, Chef Henderson puts six at-risk youth to work at his catering company to help turn their lives around. The show was quite a learning experience and I gained a great deal of respect for Chef Henderson. He understands how to motivate people, to make them want more out of life, and he inspires people to do better in all areas of their lives.

When I saw this book on the shelf at my local book store, Chef Jeff Cooks: In the Kitchen with America’s Inspirational New Culinary Star, by Jeff Henderson (Simon & Schuster, New York: 2008), I eagerly took the cookbook home. After paying for it. :)

Here’s a bit of what Chef Henderson says in the Introduction:

This is not just a cookbook; it’s a testimonial to my desire to succeed and inspire lives. It’s also a tribute to those who have been instrumental in shaping who I am today. I found my way into the kitchen by accident, but I believe today it was my destiny. God gave me my life’s vision behind the stove, and cooking has become my gift to you.

There are many black and white pictures throughout the book and the center signature is packed with beautiful color food images. The layout is simple with most recipes falling on one page. There’s also a reference section at the end. The table of contents is a little different and helps you to understand where Chef Henderson is going on his culinary journey:

  1. Stocks and Broths
  2. Appetizers
  3. Sauces and Condiments
  4. Soulful Soups and Chowders
  5. Salads
  6. Vinaigrettes and Dressings
  7. Family-Style Sandwiches
  8. Vegetables and Greens
  9. Potatoes, Starches, and Grains
  10. Dinners
  11. Time to Grill
  12. Baked Breads and Sweets
  13. Ice Creams and Sweets

chefjeff The recipes are down-home, packed with flavor, and easy to execute. Although there is no doubt Chef Henderson can bring his Bellagio best to any dish, he isn’t a show-off and remembers for whom he wrote the book. I loved the stories scattered throughout the book – very delightful, very inspiring.

The Sweet Potato Soup (pg.59) will set you straight and get you saved. The King Crab Gumbo (pg.61) will wow your Southern friends. The Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing (pg.91) is better than the one I’ve tried to rip-off from Crocodile Restaurant for many years. The Turkey Smoked Collard Greens (pg.123) are far better than mine. The Caramelized Cabbage (pg. 128) was a delightful surprise. The Sweet Potato Risotto (pg.137), oh my, it was delicious. The Molasses Braised Beef Short Ribs (pg.176) will change your life.

Chef Henderson, who lives in Las Vegas with his wife (*sigh*) and three kids, recently worked on a book project called The America I AM: Pass It Down Cookbook (Smiley Books), to honor and preserve African Americans collective family food histories and legacies. It’s due out February 2011. His first book, the memoir Cooked, was a New York Times bestseller and is slated to become a feature film. This is not “just” a cookbook, it’s a food journey and a story filled with over 150 recipes. Enjoy!

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