Black History Month: Two chefs trade restaurant kitchens for activism

by Terry B on February 29, 2012

As Black History Month draws to a close, two chefs who’ve taken very different career paths—one trying to turn at-risk youth around, the other trying to turn nutritionally at-risk communities around—are subjects of recent USA Character Approved Blog posts.

Many chefs are exposed to cooking and what will become their careers in their mother’s or grandmother’s kitchens. For Jeff Henderson, it was a prison kitchen. He was serving a ten-year sentence for drug trafficking and was assigned to kitchen duty as punishment. That punishment turned his life around. He quickly discovered a passion for cooking and developed a head for business.

Upon his release from prison, Henderson talked his way into a dishwashing job in the new Los Angeles restaurant of a prominent African American chef. From there, he eventually worked his way up to Chef de Cuisine for the restaurants of Caesar’s Palace. Then he walked away from it all.

Today, Henderson runs his own catering company. He also writes cookbooks and is star of The Chef Jeff Project on the Food Network. But much of the time, he is on the road, speaking in classrooms and in prisons, bringing a message that change is always possible. To find out more about Henderson’s tough road to personal success and how he’s trying to help others find their own roads, check out this recent post on the USA Character Approved Blog.

Vegan soul food and fighting for food equality

For Bryant Terry, chef’s training was never about making it in the restaurant business. He went straight from school to starting a non-profit organization for young people, to get them involved in food justice—the idea that everyone everywhere deserves access to healthy, affordable, sustainable food—and to empower them to create a better food system.

Through his cookbooks, Terry works to overcome stereotypes about African American cuisine. He grew up eating the kinds of healthy, seasonal, vegetable-driven meals that Michael Pollan and others say we all should strive to eat. And he cooks those kinds of meals well. Ruth Reichl said of his first solo cookbook, Vegan Soul Kitchen, “The food tastes good, not just good for you.”

Like Henderson, Terry is on the road a lot, fighting against food deserts all over the country and speaking out about the disproportionate incidence of diet-related illnesses in poor and African American communities. For more about Terry’s activism—and his latest cookbook, released just this January—read my latest post on the USA Character Approved Blog.



{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

City Share February 29, 2012 at 2:25 pm

How inspiring! I’m heading over to the USA blog to read more. Thanks.

Cynthia Fox-Giddens March 1, 2012 at 3:04 am

Great story of these chefs work and bringing awareness to healthy eating and sustainability in communities.

Terry B March 1, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Thanks, City Share!

Cynthia—It’s also fascinating to me how they’re using food to accomplish two very different goals.

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