Most people would jump at the opportunity to be Dwyane Wade's private chef. Richard Ingraham had to do a web search for him first.
"A friend of mine asked if I wanted to cook for an NBA player -- Dwyane Wade," Ingraham recalls. "I said, 'Who is that?'"
Clearly not a Marquette fan, Chef Ingraham did some research on Wade, who the Heat had just selected with the 5th overall pick in the 2003 draft, and jumped at the opportunity. Despite being trained at the Art Institute of Atlanta, working in the restaurant business, teaching culinary arts and serving as a private chef, Ingraham was admittedly nervous before their initial meeting.
"The first day I must've made a ton of food to bring over for him to taste," Ingraham says. "Next thing you know I was being called back."
Eight years later it's clear that Ingraham is doing something right. He lives with his wife and children in Atlanta, but Wade flies the Miami native back to South Beach two to three weeks at a time because he likes the chef's cooking so much.
Among D-Wade's favorites are the spicy Flash Wings that Ingraham created a few years ago. His version is Asian-inspired with chili paste, garlic, ginger and soy. The chef's lasagna is a triumph for a whole different reason.
"Dwyane doesn't eat leftovers. At all," Ingraham says emphasizing that last part. "But that lasagna -- he'll eat the leftovers."
Chef Ingraham's recipe calls for some of the usual cast in a homemade tomato sauce and fresh basil, but he substitutes cream cheese for ricotta and uses turkey sausage as the protein.
His latest breakthrough with Wade involves the produce section.
"As of late we have just started getting him eating salads because he's not a vegetable fan at all," Ingraham says. "That has been a challenge."
But their relationship in the kitchen was great from the outset. Wade ate a lot of comfort foods when they first met -- heavy sauces, gravy, and white rice. Ingraham knew there were healthier options for his client, but needed to earn his trust. Eventually they sat down and started discussing what foods could properly fuel Wade's body for the rigors of a long NBA season. Ingraham started using less sugar and switched from white to whole wheat flour.
He also became a student again, spending as much time reading about food as cooking it.
"Being a personal chef is quite difficult because you're not in a restaurant. You're not surrounded by the latest foods, spices and techniques," Ingraham says. "So I study flavors and tailor them so the food doesn't become monotonous."
With a client list that includes Wade, Udonis Haslem, Clinton Portis, Terrell Owens and Gabrielle Union, Ingraham is certainly in demand. He's currently working on a cookbook, and will showcase his talents at the end of the month in a partnership with Miguel Paredes -- the official artist for the 12th Annual Latin Grammy Awards. Ingraham will cook for over one thousand guests at the artist's Art Basel event on Nov. 30. He's also been added to First Lady Michelle Obama's Chefs Move 2 Schools Initiative and will be providing his culinary expertise to fight child obesity.
Somewhere down the line, the end game for the chef is a 50-seat restaurant. Ingraham wants a place where he can handle the cooking, but also spend time with his guests. In the meantime, he might have another way to reach the masses.
"Someone said the other day we need a Flash Wing truck riding around Miami," Ingraham says. "That's a good idea."
Or just park it outside American Airlines Arena. With the NBA lockout all but over, Miami fans should snatch up those spicy wings on the way back in to support their Heat.
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