From incarceration to the kitchen: The Chef Jeff Project highlights students’ skills with fancy fundraising dinner

Local News

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Famed executive chef Jeff Henderson knows firsthand what it’s like to be impacted by the system. He served 10 years in prison on federal drug charges, but it was there where he discovered his passion for cooking.

“I always said to myself, once I make it big in this business, I wanted to open up a kitchen, a safe place in an inner-city community to provide second chances for these young folks,” Henderson said.

After making a name for himself with a successful career as a executive chef, he’s making good on that promise with The Chef Jeff Project. Launching nine months ago, the nonprofit helps teens who’ve dealt with jail time, the foster home system or other social problems improve their lives by spending time in the kitchen.

Henderson’s students got a chance to show off their skills with a pop-up charity dinner at D’Agostino’s Trattoria Italian restaurant on Flamingo and Buffalo Tuesday evening.

“They did the prep on the salumis and cheeses, and then today they’re doing a hot dinner, a three course dinner tonight,” said Dan Thompson, owner and chef at D’Agostino’s who partnered with the Chef Jeff Project. “They’re doing all the cooking. We’re just coaching them and supervising them and teaching them how to do it and what to do.”

Thompson said this is the first of many events he plans to do with the project moving forward.

They’ve discussed having the students come back to help with future events, and they even have the opportunity to fill paid positions.

“A lot of our young people have been locked up for a year, had burglary charges, gang affiliation and things of that nature,” said Henderson. “When we bring them in the kitchen, we’re able to use food as a therapeutic tool to tap into them and hope that they can find some great resources and employment after our program.”

The dinner event included a charity auction to raise money for the project. Henderson said 100% of proceeds go to the charity and no one on staff takes a salary.

They hold a fundraiser every Saturday in North Las Vegas with New Orleans-style beignets, chicory coffee and jambalaya at 2987 North Las Vegas Blvd No. 10.

“Especially during the pandemic, a lot of our young people have had psychological issues, mental health issues,” Henderson said. “We created this culinary opportunity for them, a safe place for them where they can learn a life skill, learn to cook, learn to bake, but also feel good about themselves and see themselves different from how law enforcement may have seen them. So these kids are really learning, they’re launching careers.”

For more information on supporting The Chef Jeff project, CLICK HERE.

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