Jeff Henderson is a chef, television personality, and author. He has written two cookbooks and one self-help book, and has had three of his own cooking shows produced for Food Network. He lives in Las Vegas, Nevada with his wife Stacy and their five children.

I was always a hungry little boy growing up, because food wasn’t plentiful in our home. Visits to my grandparents’ house were the highlight of my childhood years. I can especially recall the Creole spices they would use to enhance our family’s favorite dishes. You could always look forward to a nice bowl of gumbo, a slice of bread pudding, and grandma’s sugar cookies, freshly made and waiting for us in her green, ceramic, cat-shaped cookie jar.

There was always an abundant offering of food at their home. You would never leave without a full stomach and some special goodies to take with you. My grandparents were both great Southern cooks who had a passion for cooking and feeding their family the very best. I can honestly say they had a profound influence on many of the classic dishes I cook today, keeping me faithful to my New Orleans cultural and ethnic roots.

I started my culinary career in the most unlikely place: prison. After my release in 1996, I began working for my mentor, Chef Robert Gadsby, as a dishwasher. I studied under Chef Gadsby for a year, and then went on to become a chef at Coronado Island Marriott, Hotel Bel-Air, and Viceroy L’Ermitage Beverly Hills.

After hearing about the booming restaurant scene in Las Vegas, I headed there to seek an opportunity to work at one of the top hotels on the strip. I was eventually hired at Caesars Palace and became the first African American chef de cuisine to run restaurants at the hotel. In 2001, the American Tasting Institute named me the Las Vegas Chef of the Year. A year later I became an executive chef at the world-renowned Bellagio.

In 2007, Harper Collins published my memoir Cooked, which landed me a spot on Oprah. Shortly after the show aired, Sony Pictures bought the rights to my life story and I left my post at the Bellagio to do private chef work, consulting, and public speaking. The same year, I launched a show on Food Network, The Chef Jeff Project, a docu-reality series that followed me as I mentored a group of disadvantaged young adults who worked for my private dining company.