Chef Jeff | How I Went from Drug Dealer to Gourmet Chef
Chef Jeff – Live Your Dream
In this motivational Goalcast video, he went from cooking crack to serving up the finest culinary creations you can imagine. Former crack-dealer turned gourmet chef, Chef Jeff, shares his treacherous journey from the streets to the stovetop. This is his life-changing advice.
In my world, we were called hustlers. In the corporate world, they’re called CEOs and businessmen. I used to talk a lot. I was slick. In a corporate world, they call that a master communicator, okay? Here were the parallels between the street hustler, the multimillion dollar drug dealers who never used drugs, who never was a part of gangs, who never carried guns. Age 19. Millionaire. Indicted by the federal government in 1988. Served 10 years in prison. 10 years in prison that I served. 10 years. Walking on concrete every single day. Sitting on a stainless steel toilet with toilet paper that’s hard as a brown paper bag.
So, it was in 1984 that I embraced a criminal lifestyle. My criminal lifestyle was shaped by my mentors. I wanted more for my mother, I wanted more for my sister, and I decided that this was the way for me, which was the meal ticket for tens of thousands of young men of color in inner-city communities across America. I was one of those guys, and it’s not something that I’m proud of, but you always have to go back to the beginning of how it began.
I made up to $35,000 a week in my heyday. But one thing that I wasn’t able to see because I had the blinders on, when you grow up in poverty, the frontal lobe that many of these intellectuals talk about, that goes undeveloped. It doesn’t allow you to see the world through the eyes of people who have been exposed, who have had access to The American Dream. So we see one thing, that’s how to hustle, how to put food on the table. And one of the biggest mistakes that many of our mothers in our community put on the burden of young boys, is for a mother to say that you are the man of the house. When a mother tells you that you are the man of the house at seven, eight years old, every boy wants to help his mother. Every boy doesn’t like to see his mother abused, doesn’t like to see his mother going through various challenges in life.
So, they called me a hustler back in the days. When I was on the street, I understood marketing, I understood branding, I knew how to manage a diverse workforce. I had gang members following me like any CEO, any leader or great manager of a company. When you’re a great leader, you have vision, and when you have vision, it becomes very addictive. People want to be a part of that, like tens of thousands of young people on the street. The one thing that no one ever saw in me, they didn’t know how to flip my gift of gab. They didn’t know how to flip the ability that I was a number one newspaper boy when I was eight. I had the number one candy seller route when I was a little boy. But no one saw that because my mother was blind. It wasn’t that she was uneducated, she was miseducated. So, no one was able to say, “Jeffrey, what do you want to be when you grow up?” No one saw that in me.
So, as a drug dealer, I became very successful. I had the ability to tap into the talent and the strength of people on the streets. That’s how I was able to move the product. Same scenario that I’ma take you to, the hustler, or the businessman? And I’m not putting praise on the fact that drug dealers are these great individuals. Even though we victimize by selling drugs, we were also victims of our community and the people around us that shaped our thinking.
30 percent of people go to prison have a mental health issue. What about the 70 that doesn’t? Where did we go wrong? Where did we make the wrong choices? Wrong choices are inspired by something that we see, something that we hear, whether it’s greed, whether it’s poverty, whether it’s just trying to beat the system or something like that. “Chef Jeff, how did you change? How did the blinders come off? How did you begin to see the world through a different set of eyes?” Well, it didn’t happen overnight. There was a collective of situations, circumstances, intellectual stimulation. I read my first book in prison. I was told for the first time in my life that I was smart in prison. An older man in prison taught me how to shave with a razor in prison. But not only did that begin to get me to see myself different, I became the same analyst that I was on the streets.
I was in the federal system. I was in prison with some of the brightest minds on the universe. Stockbrokers, presidents and CEOs of corporations, judges, lawyers, former DEA agents, I begin to build relationships with them. I became an intellectual jacker. I robbed them for knowledge. That’s right. I learned to cook in prison. I found my gift. It fueled by my dream. The gift was cooking. Never knew that in my life.
When I came home from prison in 1996, they told me I couldn’t get a job, and I wouldn’t get a job. Well, I proved ’em wrong. I went in as a dishwasher. When I first got my job, there were things I had to change about me when I got out of prison. Everything. I had to build a brand, I had to rebuild my image. Clean shave my face, took makeup to cover my earring hole up. No tattoos. Quit lifting weights so I wasn’t big and bulky. I got my teeth fixed, $2,600 grill, look at that, because I understood the importance of a smile. I even had to straighten up the way I walk, because I still walk cool sometimes. So, this is how I used to walk. So, I had to get my corporate swag down, right? Chef Jeff, how did I do it? I built the right relationships. I learned to smile. I changed my swagger. It took me three and a half years to get a job at The Bellagio. I changed my walk three and a half times and I finally got the job.
My mission is to get you to really understand the power and potential of individuals who may have grew up with circumstances and situations that changed the thinking process of them. Well, I believe that everybody was born with a gift. I believe that everybody was born with abilities and the strength and the genius to become someone. The reason why we’re successful in here, because we discovered that. We unleashed that. But there’s so much talent in the ‘hood. There’s so much individuals out there who are smart, who are forward-thinkers, but they were using their intellect the wrong way. I was always a genius, like so many young people who make poor choices, but it took me years to realize that. Transformation. Going from criminal to respected chef, it was a process. It was a journey, and I knew, in order to be the best chef in America, I had to go amongst the best chefs to learn, to study.
The transformation. We talk about leadership, we talk about diversity, we talk about geniuses just like us, but they’ve been untapped. No one looks at them. No one takes the time to develop them, develop that intellect. So many of these young people have been impacted and influenced by negativity. Why shouldn’t we live The American Dream? It doesn’t matter where you come from, what religion you are, what your story is. Everybody has the power of potential. Everybody can change. Each and every one of them should have that opportunity to live a dream.