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Executive Chef Jeff Henderson has sliced and diced his way to the top of his profession. He became the top chef at Café Bellagio, a bustling Las Vegas eatery, and author of the book Cooked, but there was a time when he was better known for his cocaine than his cooking.

As a child growing up in a poor, inner-city neighborhood in Los Angeles, Jeff says good role models were hard to come by. His father left when Jeff was just 2 years old, and his mother struggled to support her children by working two jobs. Jeff says he and his sister were left alone a lot of the time to fend for themselves.

Neighborhood drug dealers and petty criminals became the most influential people in Jeff's life. "We didn't have the doctors and the lawyers and the people who were going to college [to look up to]," he says. "The guys that I looked up to had all the gadgets and trinkets of the fast life. I eventually modeled my life after theirs."

Jeff was arrested for theft when he was 15 years old. Soon after, he says he started selling marijuana and crack cocaine. "I was making up to $35,000 a week," he says.

By the time he was 21, Jeff was one of the biggest drug dealers in town and a "neighborhood legend," he says. "I thought I was on top of the world—I was the man. ... We lived the lifestyle that was a dream. It felt good to be somebody."
FROM: Why They Beat the Odds
Published on March 01, 2007


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