Convict turned celebrity chef delivers food to needy

From cooking crack to gourmet food, a celebrity chef with a sordid past visited Columbia Wednesday to share his inspirational turnaround.

Chef Jeff Henderson - who is the head chef at the Belagio Hotel in Las Vegas, and host of a Food Network reality show - spent 10 years in prison for doing drugs.

But he's turned his life around and now he's giving back to communities all across the country.

"Let's give some food to the community," Henderson said at the Central Missouri Food Bank.

Henderson's doing something he once never imagined: giving back.

"I never imagined some 20 years ago that I'd be trying to make a difference in the lives of many people," said Henderson. "But I've learned from my mistakes over the year and I'm very excited to be able to do this."

But to appreciate that, you have to know what led him here. A troubled kid, Henderson was on the fast track nowhere, behind bars for pushing drugs. He says it was in the prison kitchen that he found something he enjoyed - cooking - and it turned his life around.

"For the first time in my life I was praised for something positive," Henderson said. "And touching the lives of inmates through cooking good food."

Now, Henderson feeds high rollers at a Vegas resort and teaches at-risk youth cooking on his own Food Network reality show, "The Chef Jeff Project." "In the prison kitchen I found my dream and my purpose in life," he says in a commercial for the show.

Chef Jeff's life story is the inspiration for an upclming movie starring Will Smith. He says his mission now though is to give back to communities across the country.

"I'm extremely excited to bring food, to donate to this community, to help out," Henderson said Wednesday.

Chef Jeff dropped off 48,000 meals to the Central Missouri Food Bank with the help of Farmland Foods and Premium Standard Farms - at a time when it's needed the most.

"We are seeing more people needing food assistance than we've ever seen in the history of this organization," said Peggy Kirkpatrick, the executive director of the food bank.

Officials with the Central Missouri Food bank say they serve 90,000 needy families every month and say the food donated Wednesday will likely be gone within a week.

Chef Jeff isn't just donating food to mid-Missouri, he's also donating his time, taking lessons learned in the kitchen to the classroom. And he spoke to kids at Douglas and Hickman, hoping to inspire them.