A celebrity chef is visiting kitchens across East Texas this week, tasting the comfort foods that stir-up smiles. Chef Jeff Henderson is taping a new syndicated TV show, ‘Flip My Food,’ which promises to take favorite family recipes and make them better, with fewer calories.
Henderson’s rise to the top took a different path than other celebrated chefs. 18 years ago, he walked out of Federal prison after serving nearly a decade for drug trafficking. From that day, he says his life had a purpose. “I decided I wanted to make something of myself. I wanted to break the cycle of poverty and the cycle of dysfunctional families and I changed my life.”
Turning $35-thousand a week dealing cocaine, he was now washing dishes. “From those poor choices, I had an opportunity to get my hands in the kitchen. From that point on, you know, I started valuing education.”
Focused on a future in food, Henderson didn’t block out his past entirely. “I used to smell (my grandfather’s) food, taste his food, and watch him cooking.” He shares the same kitchen culture. “It’s this love affair he had with food. You know, he had one knife in the kitchen. He never had a recipe.”
His signature style, easy dishes that evoke emotion, helped launch him to executive chef at Café Bellagio in Las Vega, New York Times best selling author, and network TV appearances on The Food Network and Oprah.
“I wanted to do a show that gives me a platform to change the lives of other people. So I created the ‘Chef Jeff Project.’ I took at-risk, trouble kids from the community and launched a catering company. I taught them life skills and life lessons and to cook, as well.”
His latest creation, ‘Flip My Food with Chef Jeff,’ features chefs from cities across the United States. “Different communities, different cultures, and different parts of the country prepare dishes differently.”
Henderson is sharing those lessons city-by-city in his ‘Flip’ it food truck, a mobile kitchen. A lifelong student, he says he’s always picking up new ideas. “We meet people all across the country where the ingredient list is in their head. It’s recipes that have been passed down.”
The new show is a melting pot of ideas, adding a unique flare to local favorites. He says he’s ready to show East Texans how to spice-up classic cuisine. “I’m definitely planning on flipping East Texas barbecue and do a Korean-style barbecue with shaved short ribs and a nice marinade of Asian spices, then finish it off on the grill with a great sweet honey barbecue sauce.”
Most of his dishes require fewer than seven steps to prepare, utilize fresh herbs and locally-grown organic ingredients, and require little time. Beyond the recipes, Henderson says eating healthier is a gradual process, starting with two days each week devoted to better meals. He also recommends setting a day to stray from the modified diet. “Maybe that cheat day is one a week or one a month. You (can) go and have you a nice piece of fried chicken and buttery mashed potatoes.”
It’s not just about mouth-watering meals. Henderson calls his brand a community mission — sharing culture through real people with real stories. “It’s for everyone. It’s not for the snooty foodies. It’s just for people who love to eat, who want to learn, and who want to travel America with me.” Along the way he’s hoping to inspire others to make that same journey from the streets to the stove.
‘Flip My Food with Chef Jeff’ will air weekdays at 2:30 p.m. on KLTV this Fall.
The show will tape its final East Texas episode Friday at Longview’s Maude Cobb Activity Center. At Noon, country music star Neal McCoy will join Henderson in the kitchen to “flip” his favorite meals. Anyone interested in watching the taping is invited to attend.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of KLTV/KTRE-TV or Raycom Media. They are solely the opinion of the author. All content © Copyright 2014 Lane Luckie