Chef Richard Ingraham shares his secret for high-protein brownies and what he cooks for Gabrielle Union. 
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gabrielle union and dwayne wade chef
Credit: Courtesy of Bob Metelus Images

You might be surprised to learn this, but Chef Richard Ingraham, who has been cooking for NBA star Dwyane Wade as his personal chef for more than a decade, used to be a professional hair stylist. Lisa Joseph, one of Ingraham’s clients at the time and Wade’s manager since 2004, connected the two after he moved to Miami from Atlanta, where he had attended culinary school after deciding to switch professions.

gabrielle union and dwayne wade chef
Credit: Courtesy of Bob Metelus Images

“Lisa gave me a call and said how would you like to work for NBA player? I didn’t follow basketball at the time. She said Google him and then call me back. I was like, ‘yeah I want to give it a try,’” the chef recalls.

The pair now works so closely that Ingraham moved his family to Chicago to be with Wade after he left the Miami Heat to join the Chicago Bulls (Wade is currently a free agent). Ingraham is now a fixture at Wade’s home, which he shares with his children and wife Gabrielle Union, every day.

Ingraham explains that he arrives at Wade’s home at quarter to five in the morning, and begins preparing for the day. For breakfast, he usually makes either a frittata or an omelet, but sometimes a breakfast sandwich for Wade, who leaves for the gym soon after.

“We try to get in about four to five meals a day…but then I do protein shakes, and then we do smaller little snacks,” Ingraham says.

For the protein shake, Ingraham sticks with a classic recipe: protein powder, bananas, almond milk, peanut butter, and sometimes flaxseeds. For his snacks, Wade prefers green grapes (Ingraham says he’s a big fan of fruit, so he tries to keep it stocked in the house), and black bean brownies. For those, the chef purees black beans and cocoa powder and adds dark chocolate and some dates to the mixture for a snack that is high in protein and fiber.

Although Ingraham has worked in restaurants before, he says that doesn’t compare to the challenges that being a personal chef brings to the table. For one thing, he constantly has to come with new recipes.

“In a restaurant you have to be creative, but even in a seasonal menu you are doing the same thing for that particular menu each and every day, and you have a special or two, but with me, I have a special that I have to deal with every single day,” he explains. “With these athletes, they like what they like. You have to try to make it as different as possible and try to make it as healthy as possible.”

Often, the couple eats different dishes for dinner. Ingraham calls Union’s palette more “expansive,” than her husband’s.

“Cooking for her allows me to be more creative. She eats a lot of seafood. She eats a ton of vegetables. We used to play a game, when [Wade] would be away. We would pick out a country and try a dish from that country. She wanted to do India one time, so we did bhindi masala,” the chef explains.

With Wade, Ingraham no longer has to guess what he wants to eat. He just knows. For instance, Wade loves Ingraham’s spaghetti, but recently the chef decided to make it with spaghetti squash instead of pasta, which he topped with a turkey meat sauce. He counts turkey burgers, tacos, and a sea bass dish with pureed butternut squash among Wade’s favorite meals.

It’s little changes—replacing sugar with honey or agave, pasta with quinoa, and red meat with a leaner choice like turkey, for instance—that Ingraham recommends as the best ways to eat like an athlete.

“When you change your eating habits, people think that you need to pull bark off a tree or start eating grass, but that’s not the case,” Ingraham quips.

Eating like a professional basketball player actually sounds like it’s easier than we imagined. And the best part? It probably tastes delicious, too.

Ingraham's first book, Eating Well to Win, is available this week.