NCIA 2019 Opening Session

Opening Session/Keynote Speaker

Monday, April 15, 2019 | 3:45pm – 5:00pm
Hyatt Regency Minneapolis

California native Jeff Henderson, known as Chef Jeff, is the first African-American executive chef at Caesars Palace and Bellagio, well-known television personality, sought-after speaker and New York Times best-selling author.

Jeff started his culinary career in the most unlikely place, prison. While incarcerated Jeff transformed his life through education and prison industry occupations, which taught him the value of hard work, leadership, and diversity. Learning a trade became a catalyst for change making him a strong example of successful reentry. After his release in 1996, he began working for his mentor Chef Robert Gadsby as a dishwasher. He studied under Chef Gadsby for a year then went on to become a chef at Coronado Island Marriott, Hotel Bel-Air, and L’Ermitage Beverly Hills.

After hearing about the booming restaurant scene in Las Vegas, he headed there to seek an opportunity to work at one of the top hotels on the strip. He 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 Jeff Las Vegas Chef of the Year. A year later he became an executive chef at the world-renowned Bellagio.

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

In 2009, he published his first cookbook, Chef Jeff Cooks (Simon & Schuster) followed by America I AM Pass It Down Cookbook (Hay House/Smiley Books) and his first self-help book If You Can See It, You Can Be It (Hay House/Smiley Books). In 2012, Jeff’s first cooking show Beat The Chefs premiered, followed by Family Style with Chef Jeff and Flip My Food.

Jeff’s story has been featured on Oprah’s Life Class, Good Morning America, Today Show, CNN, ABC World News Tonight and in major publications such as USA Today, People Magazine, New York Times, Newsweek, the Washington Post, and many others. Learn more about his story at!

Join us for this motivational and inspiring talk and hear how Chef Jeff transformed his life while incarcerated to become a shining example of successful reentry!