ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Working his way up from dishwasher to chef in the prison cafeteria, he found
the source of the passion which would give him a new lease on life. Along the way,
he came to learn every aspect of cooking in a commercial kitchen
Chef Jeff Henderson. Cooked: From the Streets to the Stove, from Cocaine to Foie Gras. William Morrow. Hardcover, 288 pages
By Jeff Henderson
Book Review by Kam Williams
My father left when I was one or two years old. It was just my mother, my sister, Cali Slim, and me living in South Central. I only saw my dad on holidays and the occasional weekend . . . I always wanted to be around my father, but I didnt know him like I wanted to. Excerpted from Chapter Two (pg. 13)
No one familiar with the unfortunate first act of Jeff Hendersons life would be surprised to learn that it had led to a long prison term. Abandoned by his father as an infant, he was raised in the projects of South Central L.A. by a hard-working, single-mom who was too consumed by her menial jobs to keep a close eye on her wayward son.
As a consequence, her boy was shaped by negative influences from an early age, and by 13 he was already a juvenile delinquent, stealing from relatives, breaking into houses and stealing bicycles. Kicked out of school less than a year later for robbing a classmate, Jeff started hanging out on the streets full-time, and not even his first arrest at 16 could deter him from a criminal path.
In fact, his felonious behavior only escalated, especially after he became the protégé of a flashy drug dealer. Adopting the alias Hard Head, Jeff soon found himself seduced by all the flamboyant trappings of the gangsta game: loose women, expensive clothes and fast cars. Though he would also become a father at 17 while still virtually a boy himself, he was too busy narcissistically indulging his decadent lifestyle to devote any attention to his young son.
By 21, Jeff had relocated to San Diego where he built his own crack business and purchased a custom-built home, eight automobiles and garish bling including gold necklaces and a Rolex. Before his empire would collapse, Hard Head was raking-in $35,000 a week and was indeed living large during weekend excursions to Vegas and a welcome high roller in Vegas.
Act Two of the Jeff Henderson saga started the day he was fingered by a member of his posse, busted by the feds, and had to trade in his fine threads for an orange jumpsuit with a number on the back. By the time he was convicted, hed lost everything, and was sentenced to 19 years behind bars on Californias infamous Terminal Island.
He could have easily have given up at this juncture by capitulating to the low expectations of a coldhearted correctional system which routinely crushes convicts spirits while swallowing up their futures whole. But rather than resign himself to diminished prospects, Jeff allowed himself to dream a new dream.
Working his way up from dishwasher to chef in the prison cafeteria, he found the source of the passion which would give him a new lease on life. Along the way, he came to learn every aspect of cooking in a commercial kitchen, and prayed that he would one day get a chance to run his own restaurant.
By the time he was paroled after serving about half his sentence, Henderson was ready to prove his worth, provided he could find someone with enough compassion to give an ex-con a second chance. Armed with innovative ideas about blending the soul food from his youth with classic Continental Cuisine, it wasnt long before his sensual creations like cornbread-encrusted lamb chops and cognac-marinated watermelon cubes help him land the big break that he craved.
The fairytale ending as Chef Jeff is chronicled in Cooked: From the Streets to the Stove, from Cocaine to Foie Gras, as moving an overcoming-the-odds memoir as you could ever hope to find. Today, Henderson is the executive chef at the renowned Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, and hes been named Chef of the Year by the Tasting Institute of America.
Fortunate to have found Stacy, a woman he could build a life around, Jeff is also very happily married, and a devoted dad to their three kids. Hes cut all ties to his gang-related roots, except for giving back to at-risk youth by offering his services regularly as an inspirational speaker.
Columbia Pictures has already purchased the film rights to Cooked on behalf of Will Smiths Overbrook Entertainment with plans to turn the best-seller into an uplifting bio-pic ala The Pursuit of Happyness. What a postscript for a remarkable role model who stands as a living, breathing testament to the indomitability of the human spirit.
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For July 1st through August 31st 2011
#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”Lisa Adkins, University of London
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 9 August 2007