Every morning, Richard Ingraham gets up way before you. He makes his way through the streets of Miami to the palatial Biscayne Bay home of America’s ultimate power couple, NBA superstar Dwyane Wade and actress Gabrielle Union.
He lets himself in around 5 a.m., puts on a pot of coffee, grabs a cup, and steps out back to watch the sun rise and dolphin play in the bay. That’s where he finds the inspiration for the daily menu he’ll be feeding Wade, Union, and the kids.
Back in the kitchen, the kids bound downstairs. Ingraham dishes up breakfast, helps them get out the door to school then readies for the next round – he never knows if it’s Gabby or Dwyane who’ll be down first, but he’ll be ready.
For the last decade, Ingraham has fed the family practically every meal they’ve had at home. During the basketball season, he goes with Dwyane. That means he and the NBA star spent part of last year in Chicago (Ingraham’s family moved with him).
Next up came Cleveland after Wade surprised the league by signing with the Cavaliers in what was an interesting but short-lived reunion with best friend Lebron James. Now Dwyane is back at home with the Miami Heat after an in-season trade.
You don’t feed people every day for 10 years and not become friends. Some days Ingram’s all about the food. Some days he pals around with Wade, watching a game or golfing (but no one-on-one in the driveway).
Now Ingraham has written a book about it all, along with a lifetime’s worth of healthy but delicious recipes – the kind of food you feed people whose bodies are the engines that make empires run. (Eating Well to Win: Inspired Living Through Inspired Cooking, just released last month)
Yes it’s a job. But for Ingraham, feeding people is also a passion, one he came by naturally in his grandmother’s kitchen.
“You really can’t get any more intimate with a person besides sleeping with them than to cook with them. I truly believe that your spirit feeds another person’s spirit through what they ingest, whether it’s the same air, the same philosophy, the same words coming out of your mouth…”
Or the food that goes in your mouth.
Cooking For Others Is “A Drug, It’s Power’
“I get that from my grandmother, from my family period, food means love to me, it always has, it meant togetherness – basically, how you show somebody you care about them is to feed them,” Chef Richard says. “I realize that it’s not just the food, it’s the feeling that they get from the food, from the conversation. It’s a drug, it’s power. To cook for people, that’s power. They’re trusting you with their lives, with everything, so you have to really have great feelings about yourself and what you do, so when you perform they are able to feel that love.”
Given the couple’s uber A-List status and friends, that can make for some interesting dinner dynamics. Ingraham doesn’t namedrop but he says whoever’s around always gets fed.
“When people come to Dwyane’s house they come right to the kitchen because they know I’m going to feed them,” he laughs. “They may act like they don’t want to eat, but they’re like, ‘Hey, long as you’re cooking, I don’t want to insult you so…”
They eat. And eat and eat and eat.
It’s not just Wade and Union. The success of that union (no pun intended… well, maybe) has allowed Ingraham to launch ChefRLI, an enterprise with partner and COO Soley Gonzalez that hosts pop-up restaurants and catering and provides personal chefs for stars like baseball’s Manny Machado and the NFL’s Michael Oher and Assante Samuel.
Ingraham makes sure the food is healthy and heavy on the produce – that machine thing, remember – but he also makes sure it’s hearty.
“The approach is just making food that’s really good with ingredients that they’re very familiar with or have heard of before and may have been curious about and just never tried – it’s basically comfort food that’s healthier,” Chef Richard says, “One thing I’ve never wanted to be cast as is a healthy chef because you cut so many other people off. I like to eat everything, in moderation of course.”
Healthy, Yes, But ‘We get Down, Too’
Ingraham keeps client wishes first and foremost.
“I want them to be comfortable, they’re in their home, I don’t want them to be like, ‘I wish I didn’t have to eat this again,’ you don’t want to be that guy — because you’re not going to be around long. They can go to somebody else’s house and eat something and say, ‘Hey do you know of a chef?’ and you’re out of a job. I just want to cook and make sure they’re very happy eating it and they’re interested in eating it and I want to show them different ways of eating healthy.”
The swapouts are mostly painless. Mashed cauliflower instead of potaotes. Roasted spaghetti squash with turkey meat sauce. Cooked quinoa in place of lasagna noodles. Ingraham’s always on the lookout for something new, [EDITOR’S NOTE – Got something you want Dwyane and Gabby to try? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll make sure it happens.]
“Don’t get me wrong, we’ll do our fried chicken and our chocolate chip cookies, we get down like that too,” Chef Richard laughs. “But I’m cooking to give them longevity in their careers. Gabby, she’s under a microscope a whole lot worse than he is – especially, people are looking to see if she still has it or not. It’s my responsibility to maintain. And every year they count Dwyane out – every year! — and every year he comes back and proves them wrong, So I feel vested when they perform.”
Ingraham makes it clear he’s just part of the team that keeps the superstars in peak condition. Managers, dressers, trainers, masseuses, “a whole machine – we’re totally vested in Dwyane and Gabby and it’s not just professionally, we have a relationship, a great relationship. There’s a lot of trust and a lot of love there, we’re all in on it.”
It’s clearly worked. D-Wade has never had another chef. And before D-Wade, Ingraham had never been a full-time personal chef. He started his career as a hair stylist before heading to culinary school and cutting his teeth in Atlanta restaurants. After a move to Miami, he got a call from an old friend who is Wade’s manager. An audition was arranged. A friend was made. A partnership was forged.
“There’s no draft for this,” Chef Richard laughs. When he first got the call about the possible job, his initial reply was, “‘I guess so – who? Dwayne Wade? I don’t know who that is.’ She said Google him and call me back. I called her right back and said, ‘Oh hell yeah.’ I went in and did an audition for him, I must have cooked everything but the kitchen sink.”
After a few test drives over the next few weeks, a job offer came. Ingraham had other irons in the fire but “I jumped out on faith and started cooking for them full-time.”
So now he hangs out with two of the world’s biggest superstars – “It’s definitely a real friendship; I equate it to winning the lottery to be honest with you” – figuring out how best to feed them and making sure no one’s ever hungry.
What’s For Dinner Tonight?
“Sometimes if I get a call from him and he asks what’s for dinner, I know he has something specific in mind. I don’t really play games: “What you want me to make?” No need in playing around – sometimes it’s burger and some fries or they may put in a request for something special, but for the most part they really just kind of rely on me to figure it out for them. With everything they’ve got going on the last thing they want to do is make another decision. That’s where the trust factor comes in.”
Sometimes it’s all a bit surreal.
“I’m in this umpteen million dollar home, I’m watching the dolphins, I’m sipping some coffee in a kitchen I designed the way I want it to be, and one of the greatest to ever play the game and one of the great actresses ever come down, and here they are talking to you, you’re talking to them, you’re feeding their family, you’re responsible for them,” Chef Richard muses. “It’s a definite blessing to be able to do that day in and day out — the relationship, it’s family.”
But you still have to feed the machine.
“It’s a job, but it’s family — you have to be able to differentiate between the two. When you as the employee start to blur that line your feelings could get hurt real quick if you get too comfortable – you’re being paid to do a service and you have to make sure you’re as professional as you can possibly be,” Chef Richard says. “There’s times Dwyane and I have gone golfing and have lunch and we sit down and he says, oh, this person wants to come over and watch the game tonight, and I’m, ‘What do you think they want, how many people?’ – I go straight into work mode.”