Good food does good

Megan Sweas| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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When I think of the Food Network and its celebrity chefs (love them as I may), I think of lobster, cavier, and pate; dainty servings with bold flavors; and restaurant checks the size of my paycheck. Watching the Food Network is one of my primary forms of entertainment, and being a judge on Iron Chef America is one of my dreams.

So I was surprised by the show that followed a particularly scrumptous Thanksgiving battle of Iron Chef America last night: The Chef Jeff Project seemed to echo yesterday's gospel.

Chef Jeff, once a big-time crack dealer, found his passion for cooking in jail. He credits food for saving his life. He became the first African American to run the kitchen at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas and now he is owns his own  catering company, Posh Urban Cuisine. But he does not try to hide the fact that he's an ex-con, sharing his story in prisons and with at-risk youth.

The goal of his TV show is best summed up by Chef Jeff himself to the six young people he's trying to help: "This is a culinary and life skills boot camp. I take my work very seriously. I take food very seriously. I'm going to be your preacher, your chef, your father, because I'm going to bring y'all the knowledge that's going to help y'all get out of the situation you're in." (See the "Meet Chef Jeff" video.)

Unfortunately, last night was the first show I saw and it was the season finale, but all six of his "contestants"--drug dealers, gang bangers, former addicts--earned scholarships to The International Culinary Schools at The Art Institutes. But a scholarship wasn't all they needed. Chef Jeff also taught them work ethic, confidence, communication, and leadership. From clips from earlier in the season, it sounds like he really transformed all of their lives.

I don't care if Chef Jeff is a man of faith or not, he's doing the work of God. I hope that he continues to do so, that his young protege really do make it, that the Food Network continues to support him, and that we viewers are inspired to use our own talents to help others.