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Daily Gullet Staff

Kitchen Hustle

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I agree with robert40 when he wrote that my story is common in a lot of American kitchens. But what Cooked provides is a voice to people that no one hears about.

Most restaurants can’t afford the CIA grads, so they hire the dreads of the world, the ones the general public knows nothing about. These are the boot strap cooks that prepare the food in most James Beard award winning resturants. The great chefs that are out there deserve a lot of respect, but we must give these cooks their just due.

More than that, giving second chances to people with backgrounds like mine is important not just to fill the jobs that need to be filled, but to help the people around us. I’m very appreciative of all the people that have helped me along my path to become a chef, and now that I’m an executive chef I do all I can to make sure that I give opportunities to people that need them.

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I really hope that your story can help the industry to see that former felons can be just as productive as anyone else. I just lost my job due to corporates finding out about my probation, which has yet to officially start. Sometimes people fall down in life, sometimes harder than others. But it does not mean that we do not have talent or the will to work hard. Perhaps if the stigma of past problems can be tonned down, maybe more people in similar situations would be inspired to explore the culinary arts.

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What an impressive and inspiring story. Thank you Chef Jeff. Yesterday afternoon I heard Jeff interviewed on the Larry Elder Show on KABC in Los Angeles. His attitude is so positive and he is such a good role model for young people who have gotten off on the wrong foot in life. In the interview Larry mentioned that Cooked is now on the New York Times Best Seller List and that the book has been optioned for a seven figure amount of money for movie rights. The movie might star Will Smith as Jeff.

I also thought of Bourdain when reading about Jeff. He also beat a drug problem by simply realizing that it was a very downhill path and deciding not to do it anymore. I will certainly be buying the book.

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Strong, clear, compelling writing--really gripping. What a pleasure to read.

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Cooked, indeed. I read all but the first 20 pages in one sitting. I couldn't put it down.

I've never been in prison, but have spent a couple of nights in county for some minor infractions which I need not go into here. Nonetheless, and curiously, the kitchen work always came up amongst those that were also there, and had spent time in prison. That, and the laundry.

I purchased the book, and had no expectations. What I found in it was probably one of the greatest recipes of all time. An absolute metaphor presented through life's challenges and ultimate victories. The same that anyone who cooks can relate to in the world of food.

Take those raw ingredients. Sometimes they are the unwanted bits, sometimes they look pretty, sometimes you stumble upon them by accident...make something out of them. Realize that there is learning, realize there is trial and error, but realize that those raw ingredients put together thoughtfully and soulfully can be pulled together into something that may be special and oh-so-good. If you try, if you stay focused, if you have that ultimate vision and goal in mind.

I see Cooked as that. Congrats on where you're at, Jeff. In my mind, you didn't write a book extolling the virtues of cuisine or secret recipes, necessarily, but you did indeed lay forth a good recipe for inspiration in life and dealing with the challenges it presents.

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I don't mean to be too negative, but I was in Vegas a few weeks ago, saw the USA today article (any headline with Foie Gras in it gets my attention) and thought it was a great story and particularly noticed that it mentioned the Cafe Bellagio is open 24 hours. Fast forward to three AM when I was hungry and had a strong craving for Foie. I went to great trouble (simple tasks seem to get more difficult as the night goes on in Vegas, weird) to get to the Bellagio, then find the cafe within it. I was greatly dissapointed to find not a scrap of foie on the menu, and when I asked the waitress if they had any in the kitchen she looked at me like I was crazy. I ended up eating a shitty french dip and leaving unfulfilled. The story is great, and I'm glad he turned his life around, but based on my experience the restaurant he runs is nothing more than a prettied up version of Applebees. Any passion he has for food certainly didn't come through in the menu I saw. Actually, I must admit I was shocked all weekend at how dreadful most of the food choices were in Vegas unless you went to a "big name" restaurant.

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