Jeff Henderson is brutally honest, to say the least.
When you admit to about 100 York County School of Technology students in the first 10 minutes of a speech that you used to be a crack dealer and then had to do 10 years in prison, there's nothing to hide.
But then again, he became "Chef Jeff" in part because of his honesty about his past, and the success he had in overcoming it.
That success includes a reality show, "The Chef Jeff Project," on the Food Network, a New York Times best-selling book, "Cooked," and speaking around the country about how a convicted felon turned his life around.
On Thursday, Chef Jeff was speaking to culinary students about how he rose above his early life of crime, learned how to cook while
None of it would have been possible without hard work, he told students.
"Anyone willing to be the first in, last out? I did whatever was necessary with integrity to get the job," Henderson, 47, said. "You can't be lazy."
The event: The San Diego native was in York on Thursday as the featured speaker at the Lutheran Social Services Cornerstone dinner. Chloe Eichelberger, who serves on numerous boards throughout the York area, received the annual Cornerstone Award.
But Henderson wanted to make sure he had some time to talk to students Thursday morning before the dinner. The School of Technology's culinary program, which features students from around the county and from various backgrounds, provided a good fit.
Some lessons: Henderson had words of wisdom aplenty during his half-hour-plus discussion:
**On students' needing to be professional: "I couldn't have my pants sagging off my behind. I couldn't go into the Bellagio, the Ritz Carlton ... with my swagger real hard. I needed a corporate look."
**On finding a niche: "Searching for your gift in the culinary world is really important. And it's not all about fine dining these days. The industry is going back to comfort food, classic American cuisine."
**On food you see in magazines and on morning shows: "Most of that food isn't even edible. Food stylists make it look all nice."
**On the importance of being prepared: "A lot of students come into this business because they cook great food at home, and people tell them, you should go to culinary school. It's totally different, cooking restaurant food from home cooking."
**On giving up dealing drugs: "The devastation of crack cocaine across this country (in the 1980s), I knew I could never go back to that life again."
**On how getting arrested may have saved his life: "I probably never would have stopped (dealing drugs otherwise). Or I'd be dead."
**On student' needing to realize who their true friends are: "My loyalties are not to my friends in the streets anymore. They weren't coming to visit me, call me, give me money" when he was in prison.
**On cooking in prison: "They don't let you have knives," by yourself, he said. Anyone who had to cut something "had to go into a cage." His show on the Food Network won't go into season two, he said, because it ended up focusing much more on the social issues facing the young chefs he was mentoring rather than cooking.
Viewers watch the Food Network just want to watch food, he said. But he is working on a new show and a new book.
Chef Bruce Baker, one of the school's culinary instructors, told students afterward that Chef Jeff's message of hard work and finding redemption should motivate students who wonder why teachers push them so hard.
"I hope that sinks in a little more now," Baker said.
The celebrity chef's message certainly sank in for junior Kahla Kittrell, who is planning on attending the Culinary Institute of America.
"It was awesome. Even though he struggled, he kept going," Kahla said.
- Reach Andrew Shaw at 505-5431 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ydblogwork