Cleveland Indians Executive Chef Joshua Ingraham drives his culinary business and personal life toward functional food and its positive healthful benefits.
By Lisa Parrish, GMC Editor
Chefs consider ingredients steppingstones, guiding their path toward creating a fabulous, flavorful dish. This step adds crunch. That step enhances the flavor profile. The next step adds aroma and mouthwatering appeal. All of these stones lead to a balanced dish.
Rarely does a chef select ingredients foremost for their nutritional value and positive effect on health. A few cutting-edge chefs are changing that standard by creating functional foods that have the deliberate dual benefit of being flavorful dishes with positive health effects.
When understanding how food can be functional, cooks must recognize there is more to an ingredient’s benefit beyond its flavor component and calorie content. The Mayo Clinic describes functional foods as those that have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition. A good example, according to the hospital, is oatmeal’s whole grains that contain soluble fiber which in turn can help lower cholesterol. However, that in-depth nutritional knowledge is most often left to dietitians or learned on the job but is usually not taught in the culinary cooking classroom.
Chef Joshua Ingraham, CEC, Pro Chef Level II, Founder of Go Buddha, understands the differences between cooking food and cooking functional food. His culinary career has spanned positions with Harvard Law School, Boston Bruins and Celtics, Boston Symphony and Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians, where he is currently executive chef. However, it wasn’t until his time as System Executive Chef at the Cleveland Clinic hospital where he understood the dynamics of functional cooking. It was also during this time where Ingraham began changing his personal life to include healthy eating choices and increased physical fitness.
Himself a collegiate baseball athlete, Ingraham thought he found his culinary niche in the sports arena. He was especially happy to be a part of the Boston Bruins hockey organization when they clinched the 2011 Stanley Cup. “I was in the Duck Car parade with my chef’s hat on. It was incredible,” he remembered. He was also a member of the 2017 Cleveland Indians American League Championship team.
Those experiences were quite different from the culinary challenges faced at his next chef’s position in the Cleveland Clinic. In this space, ingredient precision was required and deviating by one gram of fat could have extremely detrimental effects on a patient’s care. He began focusing on food’s health prevention aspects. “I left (cooking for) sports to get into culinary medicine,” he explained. “I wanted to present someone with the perfect diet (for their medical condition).”
Beyond cooking for patients in the Cleveland Clinic, he also began preparing food for his father-in-law who had been diagnosed with cancer. Functional cooking became front and center in both his professional and personal life. It was also at this time, Ingraham dedicated himself to fitness, earning the moniker “Chef in Shape” as well as a spot on The Rock’s NBC TV show “The Titan Games.” “You can’t help others if you can’t help yourself,” he said.
Ingraham has been taught many surprising discoveries as he learned the practices of functional cooking. One teachable moment came when he discovered that keeping the gut biome working properly included only one, three-ounce serving of red meat in five days. “I would go to a restaurant and see a 12-ounce T-bone steak on the plate and think that was 20 days-worth of red meat,” he said.
Another illuminating moment came when he learned cruciferous vegetables contain chlorophyll and have been known to scrub clean the lungs. “When I learned this I said, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to eat broccoli every day.’” This would be helpful if someone stopped smoking, he suggested.
Medicinal culinary cooking had to be specific in ways that cooking for athletes wasn’t. “I had to hit a set target of ingredients or I could set off a patient’s symptoms. I couldn’t be off,” the chef explained. He remembered one Thanksgiving meal he cooked and pureed for a child patient who was waiting for his next procedure and how he wanted it to be beautiful and delicious. “I saw my kids in that child,” he remembered.
Ingraham’s culinary nutritional training was “scarce,” according to the chef. “I remember in school a chef taught us pairing white rice with chicken will reduce the fat content by half. The theory was the meal was balanced with the rice,” he recalls. His view of cooking foods – functional foods – has evolved with his career. Chef Ingraham sees food as a body’s multivitamin and functional cooking has truly become his passion.
“It’s crazy. We eat food every day and take it for granted. Why do we need to eat it?” he asked. “Food is beautiful and speaks to us and shows us its quality in vibrant colors. We just have to be observant and aware.”
Ingraham provided an example, the strawberry chopped salad, of a functional meal he created. The ingredients were selected because they are both delicious and when paired together maximize the body’s bioavailability. The salad contains edamame which is a healthy source of lean protein, spinach that is full of protein and vitamins, potassium-giving golden beats, strawberries for vitamin B and pecans. “This salad is a fresh multivitamin,” he said. “It’s a killer salad that allows the nutrients to be easily absorbed.”
Click here to see a discussion with Chef Ingraham and Cleveland Cavaliers Dietitian Kylene Bogden, founder of FWDFuel.com, as they discuss what is functional food and what are its benefits.
In 2019 Chef Ingraham stepped back into his role as Executive Chef of the Cleveland Indians. Surprising as it sounds, the workload with the professional baseball team was less than at the Clinic. “At least in baseball there is an off season,” he laughed. It also provided him time to work on a side project – a functional food lab. This side project came front and center when COVID-19 shortened the 2020 baseball season and gave Ingraham a chance to get his Go Buddha restaurant concept off the ground.
This quick service plant-based restaurant in Rocky River, Ohio, is open six days a week, with an opportunity for national food shipments four days per week and delivery within 30 miles available three days per week. All meals are functional medicine approved and are gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan-friendly. His custom-built bowls are created onsite and the chef said it’s “like a Chipotle on steroids.”
“My goal with the restaurant is to create mindful, conscious eating patterns that are affordable, sustainable and functionally sound,” he said. “And to create eating happiness.”