Keep it simple, Jeff Henderson says.
Embarking on his fourth television cooking series, the Las Vegas chef says “Flip My Food” is all about taking an original dish and making it a little healthier.
And that’s possible even with the calorie-rich cuisine for which Louisiana is famous. The syndicated show, which travels to a different American city for each series of episodes, recently spent a week in the gastronomical mecca that is New Orleans.
“One of the most exciting shows was a grandmother show where I had three grandmothers come on, various ages from 90 down to 70, and we had great kitchen conversation and cooked some classic dishes and we did a healthy turkey gumbo, a quick Asian-style stir fry shrimp,” Henderson said from Las Vegas. “We also did a baby show with mothers who had toddlers and infants, and I cooked for the mothers and took some of the same ingredients and pureed it and made baby food out of it.
“Yeah, we had a fun time. Oh yeah, definitely, I’ve been flipping pretty hard down there. I’m surprised they haven’t run me out of there yet,” he said.
While in the area, the film crew ventured out to Lafitte for an on-board segment focusing on shrimp.
“We had a good time down there, you know, cooking shrimp and eating shrimp. You know, the abundance, the shrimp, it was just like it was raining from the seas,” Henderson said.
Filming on the water veered from the usual, yet varied, show venues.
“We feature individuals, we go to fire stations, police stations. I’ve cooked with mayors, and restaurant owners, we pull up in people’s driveways of their homes, and we talk and we flip food. We also go to grocery stores and farmers markets,” Henderson said.
“The whole point is me cooking food with simplicity and getting viewers to say, ‘Hey, you know, I could make that dish.”
The process of “flipping” classic recipes involves using various seasonings, spices and herbs, also with unique cooking techniques, the chef said.
“And I still use a little fat, I just cut it back,” he said. “I use an olive oil/butter blend, where it’s less butter and replaced with olive oil. And I use bacon, but it’s good bacon, from a healthy pig that’s never been injected with hormones or nitrates, free range, everything, all our animals are free-range and farm-raised.”
The taste tests bring a majority of thumbs-up.
“I’ve had great success in people tasting and really getting the flavor of the original dish without the fat, as much fat. I can pat myself on the back. I was a little nervous at first, but so far, so good,” Henderson said.
This season, look for “Flip My Food” to hit Richmond, Virginia; Charlotte, North Carolina; Memphis, Tennessee; Atlanta; Cleveland, Ohio; and in November, Baton Rouge.
The production team is still building the shows to be shot in the capital city, the chef said, so anything is a possibility.
“Italian, Asian, Thai, Southwest, Mexican, Cuban, we go global,” he said of the diverse “Flip My Food” menu. “I always play to local ingredients. I try to use local sustainable meats, seafood, so we keep it community.”
It’s a 150-episode season for the weekday, and in some markets, six-day-a-week show. About 75 percent of the season has been shot, Henderson said.
The jovial, down-to-earth Henderson’s first television series, “The Chef Jeff Project,” aired on Food Network, followed by “Beat the Chefs” on the Game Show Network, and the syndicated “Family Style with Chef Jeff.”
Before Henderson started flipping food, he flipped his life.
“Many years ago, I got in a little trouble, and served a little time and re-invented myself,” he said of his years in prison. “I learned to cook and that’s how I discovered a hidden gift that I had. I’ve nurtured that gift over the past 18 years and here I am, 18 years later, they call me ‘Chef Jeff.’”