Chef Jeff Henderson returns to native South LA

Chef Jeff signs a copy of his newest book at Eso Won Books.

Chef Jeff signs a copy of his newest book at Eso Won Books. | Anna-Catherine Brigida

When Eddie Joebishop heard his old friend-turned-celebrity chef Jeff Henderson on the radio promoting a book signing, he scribbled down the address of Eso Won Books in Leimert Park and traveled the 40 miles from his home to hear him speak Monday night.

Read a Q&A with Henderson about his new book, “12 Street-Smart Recipes for Success,” here on Intersections.

Joebishop and Henderson met in prison, which they jokingly referred to as “Fed University.” They hadn’t seen each other in almost two decades.

The two were part of a group of inmates who chose to educate themselves while in prison, Joebishop said. They attended seminars and read countless books, often bought at Eso Won Books.

The unexpected reunion at a such a meaningful location moved Henderson to tears.

Joebishop said he is not surprised by his friend’s success.

“There was just something about [Jeff] that I could always tell was intelligent,” Joebishop said.

That intelligence, along with business savvy, helped Henderson launch a million-dollar crack-dealing business by the time he was 19. It also landed him in prison for 10 years.

Henderson took the time to reevaluate his life. He realized he had a natural talent for marketing and public relations. And as prison chef, he was earning compliments for his cooking. He decided he would harness those skills to become a professional chef.

After a first job washing dishes, Henderson worked his way up to executive chef at The Bellagio in Las Vegas, becoming the posh hotel’s first Black executive chef — and its first ex-con.

Henderson’s success translated into several books. At Eso Won Books on Monday night, he presented the fourth and most recent, “If You Can See It, You Can Be It: 12 Street-Smart Recipes for Success.”

The book lays out Henderson’s steps to success so that others might learn from his story.

“Dream big, think big,” he said. “You have to see it in order to make it become a reality.”

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