When you were a kid, you had some dreams about what you wanted to do when you grew up. You just didn’t know how much effort it would take.

When you started out, you absorbed by watching and doing. Maybe you went to trade school or college, or you were taught by the School of Hard Knocks. Perhaps you blazed trails and schooled yourself. Any way it happened, it took a lot of learning to reach your station in life.
And it took a lot of work.

Chances are, though, your on-the-job experience didn’t come from prison. In the memoir “Cooked” (c.2007, Harper, $14.95 / $16.25 Canada, 271 pages) by Jeffrey Henderson (now in paperback), you’ll read one man’s hard-earned recipe for success.

Growing up in a mostly-single-parent household, Jeffrey Henderson was an accomplished thief by time he was 13 years old. Stealing was easy: he started with his mother and his aunts, and later graduated to bike theft and more.

Lacking a father at home, Henderson says he was gratified when a man in the ‘hood began to show him some attention. A mere five years older, T became Henderson’s father figure, mentor, and best friend.

He also taught Henderson to hustle. Within a short time, Henderson had his own drug connections, was cooking cocaine, making crack, and pulling down big money. Custom cars filled his garage. The latest designer clothes filled his closet. Several women filled his time.

Then, following a raid at his house, he was busted and the high-roller life was over. Henderson found himself in prison serving a nineteen-and-a-half year sentence. He was 24 years old.

But a prison job that Henderson didn’t want led him to something he loved: cooking. Henderson began obsessing over recipes and he learned to put his own spin on a dish. Excited, he put together a plan for after his release, and he soaked up as much knowledge as he could get behind bars. Once he was out, he persisted until he had learned from the best and had landed the job of his dreams. The man who mixed in the pen found his life in a pan.

My first impression about “Cooked” was surprise at the very raw language, which reflects author Jeff Henderson’s street background. It’s there on page one and it’s there in the afterword, and while it’s realistic, it’s not reflective of the professional that Chef Jeff obviously is today.

My second impression was again surprise when I suddenly realized I was halfway through the book and I had barely moved from my spot on the sofa. “Cooked” is positively un-put-downable.

Henderson’s perseverance alone is so impressive that you want to stand up and cheer through the last chapters. His story should be mandatory reading for any person who ever said “I can’t” and for anyone – entrepreneur or otherwise – who’s been tempted to throw in the towel on anything.

Now out in paperback, this book is a bargain at under twenty bucks. Pick it up and take a bite. “Cooked” might be the tastiest memoir you’ll read this spring.