It's Official: This Celeb Chef Has the Coolest Job In the World
Cooking for others can be nerve-racking, but that didn’t stop Chef Richard Ingraham from making a career out of it. In fact, he’s been Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union’s personal chef for upwards of 13 years, and he says it’s like “hitting the lottery.” From busy schedules to various food preferences to nutritional requirements, Ingraham details how he manages to put healthy, creative, and tasty food on the table in his first cookbook Eating Well to Win: Inspired Living Through Inspired Cooking.
What made you decide to write a cookbook?
Since I don’t have a restaurant and I didn’t have enough followers to get out there with endorsements, I had to find a way to take my career to the next level. I wanted to put something out there with the type of food that I like to prepare. People always ask, ‘Where is your restaurant? What kind of food do you cook?’ Now, people can take these recipes into their home.
How is cooking as a personal chef different from cooking at a restaurant or cooking for yourself?
It’s not that different from family, because in both situations, you need to think of things that everyone likes. It differs from restaurants in that even if the menu [at the restaurant] is seasonal, you’re still cooking the same thing most days. Everyday for me is special. I’m not cooking the same thing everyday, which forces me to continuously be creative and open-minded. No disrespect to those in the restaurant industry, because I used to work there, too. Working in restaurants gets you ready for the hustle and bustle as well as the non-stop thinking that my job requires me to do.
What are some of the nutritional challenges you face when cooking for an athlete? How does it differ for entertainment? How do you balance both?
A lot of people think that because Dwyane is the athlete, he is the only one who is concerned about nutrition, which isn’t the case. Gabrielle is an actress, and her body is scrutinized very heavily for the way that she looks. In fact, both are very athletic. Typically, we’ll start with carbs earlier in the day, and focus on lean protein and veggies later, with tons of water throughout. Gabrielle has a more intense palate, so I can be more creative with the food I cook for her because she likes to try different things. Dwyane likes a lot of the same ingredients (chicken, turkey, bison), whereas Gabrielle likes Indian, Mexican, and soul food.
For example, this morning after we worked out Dwyane had an egg white omelet with asparagus and red bell peppers, along with Ezekial toast and peanut butter. Gabrielle might usually have two boiled eggs, but today she also had an omelet. For lunch, I’m making brown rice with black beans and blackened chicken breast with a pineapple and avocado salsa for Dwyane, as well as crab cakes with heirloom tomato and cucumber quinoa salad for Gabrielle. For dinner, I’ll make grilled lamb chops with a cauliflower purée and grilled asparagus for Dwyane, but for Gabrielle, I’ll swap out the lamb for salmon because it’s something light that I know she’ll like. Remembering what they do and don’t like is important. I never want them to feel like they have to remind me of something that they don’t like—that is the worst feeling.
What do you think people don’t realize or don’t understand about what it’s actually like to be a personal chef for celebrities?
It’s amazing, but it’s a lot of hard work. It’s very time consuming if you’re really in it for the right reason, which is supplying your client with the best quality food. Because of social media, everyone wants to be a celebrity chef. But, do you want to be known for cooking for celebrities or because your the food that you are cooking is celebrated?
Cooking for other people can be nerve-racking. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to cook more for others?
Get to know them! Communication is key—don’t guess, and never get so confident. Being a personal chef is like riding a motorcycle—you crash because you don’t respect the motorcycle. Accidents happen when you think you know it all. I’ve been doing this for over 10 years, and I still nervous every time I put a plate of food down in front them. I’m always looking to see if he eats it all and what they do/don’t like. They’re very honest because even though we’re like family, I still carry myself as strictly business in the kitchen. Sometimes I find myself cooking food the way I would personally eat it, but Dwyane will be sure tell me how he wants it cooked. Take ownership of what you’re doing, but most importantly, build a relationship with the person you’re cooking for.
What’s your favorite thing to cook for your clients?
Anything seafood—Dwayne’s favorite is pan-roasted seabass with puréed butternut squash and ponzu sauce, with a side of grilled asparagus.
Is there an ingredient that you couldn’t live without?
Ginger and garlic, both separately and together. They have tons of health benefits and add great flavor.
What do you look for in your team of personal chefs? Culinary school? Knowledge of nutrition? Catering experience?
We ask that they send in pictures of their work with a resume. Then, they cook for us. We look at their appearance, because as a personal chef you are representing your client at all times—that means nails, shoes, hair, chef coat is pressed. We look for proper use of cutting boards, presentation of food, and combination of flavors. We’re also looking for chefs that are cooking for a healthier diet. Not to mention, a personality and communication skills are great to have.
Do you think becoming a successful personal chef for a high-profile client is purely based on luck?
Sure the pieces fell into place, and you can always say luck, but luck is what you make it as well. I tell this story all the time, but I used to be a professional hair stylist in Miami, and one of my clients became Dwyane’s manager. Yes, it was very lucky, but had I not treated her well, and had she not seen my professionalism, she would have never recommended me. She’d never eaten my cooking, but she knew that she had experienced my service first hand.
What do you hope people will take away from your cookbook?
Each photo is taken with my Iphone because I want it to look like something you would cook. Make the recipe the way you want to make it. If you don’t like something, swap it out. If it tastes good to you, then it works, and I hope that you share it with others. Food is something that brings people together. I don’t want it to be intimidating, so that’s why it should feel like I’m talking to you as you’re reading it. I don’t want you to turn a page and feel that you couldn’t do it yourself.
Ready to get cooking? Grab a copy here.