What it's like to be the personal chef for a celebrity power couple.
AUGUST 8, 2017
Richard Ingraham was 32 years old and teaching culinary arts at a Miami high school when he got a call that would change his life: An old acquaintance was managing a new NBA rookie, Dwyane Wade, and he was looking for a chef.
Now, 14 years later, Ingraham has been cooking for NBA veteran Dwyane Wade for his entire professional career. It’s taken him from Miami to Chicago to vacations abroad. But when Wade and Gabrielle Union married in 2015, it meant cooking for a veteran in another field: acting. Union has been gracing the screen for decades, starring in some of the most iconic ‘90s and early aughts teen classics like She’s All That, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Bring It On. These days, you can catch her playing Mary Jane Paul in the new season of Being Mary Jane on BET.
Despite the long days, demanding menus, and constantly changing locales, Ingraham, whose first book, "Eating Well To Win: Inspired Living Through Inspired Cooking" comes out in September, wouldn't have it any other way.
“It's a blessing. I tell people all the time. It’s blessing for me to be able to do this for as long as I have and to work for such great people,” Ingraham says. "I feel like I won the lottery.”
Ingraham started his career as a stylist. The two careers—cooking and cutting hair—have more in common than you might think. You have to be able to look at something that’s a bit of a mess and turn it into something composed, and your customer better love it. We asked Ingraham what it’s like cooking for two customers with very different ideas of what tastes good.
How did you end up in this role?
I’ve been cooking for Dwyane since he first got into the league, basically. He had just signed with the Miami Heat. Before going to culinary school and teaching, I went to cosmetology school and did ladies’ hair for seven years. It turns out that Dwyane’s manager was a friend and former client. I did her hair for her prom! She called and asked if I wanted to come in, and the rest is history. Relationships are the foundation of everything you are going to do in life. It’s how you treat people that matters. Had I not treated her well, she never would have thought to call me.
What was the audition like?
Initially, I went in and made ten different dishes, things like smothered turkey wings, mac n’ cheese, lemon pound cake. Not the healthier food we do now. I started cooking for him once a month, then it gradually became more frequent. After a little while, I left my teaching job and started this full-time. When Dwyane became a Chicago Bull after 13 season in Miami, my wife and children and I also packed up and left Florida for Illinois.
How have the meals changed over the years?
Now, we make sure he's eating healthy. It’s a great change from early in his career when I was cooking smothered fried chicken wings and pasta all the time. When he was younger, I was cooking everything, and he was eating everything. He’s really changed his eating habits and has learned how food affects his body.
What is a typical day’s meals for Dwyane during the NBA season?
Breakfast can be peanut butter and banana oatmeal with egg whites and sausage. Always lots of water with lemon and a green juice that I make with kale, green apple, blueberry, ginger, cucumber, and lemon. After the morning shootaround, for lunch, maybe a quinoa pasta with turkey and a vegetable like sautéed kale. To take with him to the game, I’ll prepare a sandwich like roast chicken with avocado, mustard, and lettuce. I’ll add in some green grapes for a snack. After the game, since he's expelled so much energy, maybe a grilled ribeye with asparagus and butternut squash puree with a little cinnamon and maple syrup.
What’s a typical day of food for Gabrielle?
In the mornings, Gabrielle will have anything from oatmeal and blueberries to an acai bowl. Sometimes we do hard boiled eggs, and then she’ll do a juice. Lunch is usually small, like a crab cake with a nice salad with heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, red onions, and a lemon vinaigrette. She drinks a ton of water and eats a lot of vegetables. For dinner maybe a blackened salmon with quinoa and a lot of vegetables, or an Indian okra dish, or a blackened grouper. After 6 p.m., though, it’s no carbs for her, especially when she’s shooting. We basically make sure she gets a lot of lean protein and vegetables. Every once in a while, I’ll be in the kitchen baking cookies and she might come in and snatch one. She’s human.
What are some ingredients you always use?
I like grapeseed oil. It's nice and light, and it doesn't have a flavor. It has a high burn point, so it can stand a lot of heat. I also use a lot of garlic and a lot of ginger; they have great properties for digestion.
How do you balance the nutritional needs of a pro athlete and Hollywood actress in the same house?
A lot of people don't know this, but they are both athletes! Gabrielle played basketball, and she's an accomplished athlete, too. But Dwyane eats a certain way. He’s not a big fish eater, even though we are trying to get him to eat more of it. He doesn't like super spicy foods, but Gabrielle does. She’s a foodie! Dwyane also needs a lot more carbohydrates than Gabrielle. He can lose four pounds a game.
How do you cook for them when Dwyane is traveling for work or when Gabrielle is on set?
Gabrielle works very long days on set, so I send her off with an array of things to snack on: boiled eggs, two or three liters of water, a banana, and peanut butter energy bites. I’ll also pack her lunch and dinner, something like jumbo lump crab cakes over an heirloom tomato and quinoa salad with lemon honey vinaigrette for lunch and a blackened salmon with vegetables for dinner.
For Dwyane, he loves tacos when he travels. I’ll also make barbecue chicken sandwiches and different pasta dishes. I package it in insulated bags. Actually, can you hold on a second? I have to go bring Dwyane his food for the plane. He’s on his way to the airport.