Jeff Henderson, the executive chef at Café Bellagio in Vegas, began his career as a big-time coke dealer, raking in $35-large every week. His transformation from drug kingpin to culinary denizen via a stint in a prison kitchen is the stuff that memoirs are made of, so of course he’s gone and made one—Cooked: From the Streets to the Stove, from Cocaine to Foie Gras, which was just released last week. While the confessions-of-a-dealer genre has become pretty well-worn territory in the last decade, the exclusive excerpts on eGullet are riveting.
Some of the best parts are the unexpected revelations about prison cuisine—like this one, in which Henderson describes daily goings-on in the kitchen:
The huge oven looked like something you’d see in a crematorium. An inmate opened the heavy steel door to reveal six long shelves that held four sheet pans each, filled with cinnamon rolls, cakes, and cookies. I’d later learn that all of the baked items that were served in federal prisons were prepared according to military recipes. The traditional pies served were Boston cream, lemon meringue, apple, and peach, all made with canned fruits that reminded me of the government commodity food I’d eaten when I was growing up, but the pies were still very good.
On the other side of the bakery, a guy was running the giant ninety-quart Hobart mixers. I was amazed. You’d think that all of the baked goods in a prison would be shipped in from outside sources, but everything was made fresh on the premises, all of it run and operated by inmates.
Fresh-made doughnuts and pies, eh? Sounds better than what a lot of schoolkids eat these days.