Richard Ingraham: Chef to the Stars

In this week's Miami New Times, we profile 30 of the most interesting characters in town, with portraits of each from photographer Stian Roenning. See the entire Miami New Times People Issue here.

Richard Ingraham's first memories are of food. The chef, who was born in Liberty City, recalls his grandmother waking him up at 3 a.m. Thanksgiving Day to help her glaze the hams. "I would help her put on the pineapple rings and the cherries and the cloves," he says.

Ingraham enrolled in the Art Institute of Atlanta to study culinary arts and worked at various restaurants while studying. "When I left, I was already a sous-chef."

After moving back to Miami, Ingraham taught culinary arts at the South Dade Educational Center. "I taught the homeless and children with behavioral disorders," he says. "Some of my kids weren't supposed to play with fire or handle knives, but we just had a ball. I made it my business to challenge them to do the best they could do."

Ingraham's skills caught the attention of Alvah H. Chapman Jr., founder of the Chapman Partnership, who asked him to cook for his family. Working in the home kitchen of a millionaire proved a challenge -- and a unique opportunity. "They sent me to etiquette class," Ingraham says, "and polished me up."

That job led to an interview for the position of Dwyane Wade's personal chef.

"He had just signed with the Miami Heat, and after I Googled his name I just had to cook for him, so I made smothered turkey wings and mashed potatoes with cornbread and strawberry lemonade," he says. "We got along fine."

For a while, Ingraham "traveled both sides of the rainbow," spending much of his time working in the kitchens of multimillion-dollar homes and then taking the experiences back to his students.

"They didn't even believe me at first, but I would tell them what I saw so they would have hope," he says. "I wanted them to see a black male not rapping, not playing sports or in the movies, but to see a black male in a successful business that they knew and that cared about them. It inspired me, and it inspired them to work hard and be the best they could be."

Now Ingraham has a team of chefs that work with him in Miami, Atlanta, New York, and Washington, D.C., each devoted to servicing the culinary needs of a different star athlete.

A typical day for Ingraham might consist of preparing food in the morning for Wade's family and then going to a Miami-Dade public school to consult on efforts to create healthier meals as part of Michelle Obama's Move 2 Schools White House Initiative or simply talk with students to encourage them to stay in school.

"I want to impart some knowledge and hope to our kids," he says, "that we can do anything if we put our minds to it."

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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss