April 17, 2021


All Things Delicious

James Helferich, Artist in the Food items Globe and Prison Chef, Dies at 75

3 min read

This obituary is section of a sequence about persons who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Go through about other individuals in this article.

He was a Michelangelo of ice, a Rodin of butter.

Every time James Helferich established to get the job done on a 300-pound block of ice, his co-employees at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla., would acquire, awe-struck, as he chiseled out a shark, a dolphin, an eagle or an elaborate fruit basket. His butter get the job done was just as enthralling: He labored the butter like clay, with a ceramist’s instruments, forming delicate mermaids or schools of fish that appeared to swim as a result of the bounty of the banquet tables he oversaw.

He was a blended-media artist, way too. He could do astonishing things with chocolate, vegetables and fruit.

Mr. Helferich died on Aug. 15 at a rehabilitation facility outdoors Ocala, Fla., right after 4 months on a ventilator. He was 75. The trigger was complications of Covid-19, his brother Richard Helferich, explained.

Mr. Helferich designed his artistry during a extended career in hospitality, mostly at topic parks in Florida. But late in life he experienced a reversal of fortune, and alternatively of retiring embarked on a new chapter, getting perform two decades ago as director of food stuff companies at the Sumter Correctional Establishment in Bushnell, Fla.

Jail food items is demanding, in portion since cooks are presented authorities-issued components and questioned to adhere to strict dietary tips. If the foods are inedible, you may have a riot on your hands. But Mr. Helferich was an abnormal employ: He had been classically properly trained as a chef.

Mr. H., as he was recognized, took charge of Sumter’s kitchen, offering a few delicious meals to about 1,200 inmates. With his MacGyver contact, he fixed the ovens and a refrigerator. And each individual working day, he worked aspect by side with inmates in the kitchen, then sat down with them to share the food items they experienced prepared.

As of Oct. 1, 103 inmates at the facility had examined positive for Covid-19, as experienced 35 personnel members, in accordance to the Florida Department of Corrections.

James Earnest Helferich was born on Sept. 8, 1944, in Cleveland. His father, Earnest, was a machine repairman at the Ford foundry in Brook Park, Ohio he had an uncanny skill to deal with everything, a talent his son inherited. James’s mother, Eva (Gantos) Helferich, was a beautician who had her personal elegance shop in Parma, a suburb of Cleveland, where the family members lived.

James desired to be a pilot, but his mother put the kibosh on that as a job — way too harmful, she said — so he made the decision on cooking faculty as an alternative, and in 1965 he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.

Mr. Helferich was drafted into the Army in 1968 and despatched to West Germany as a mechanic regardless of his culinary chops. “Anybody can cook dinner in the Army,” Richard Helferich stated. “Not all people can repair things.”

He began a career in hospitality right after his discharge. He was food items and beverage director at a number of parks in Florida, together with the Miami Seaquarium and Silver Springs, in close proximity to Ocala.

Mr. Helferich satisfied Frances Hewitt at SeaWorld, the place she was a fry cook. They married in 1979. His wife was born devoid of a perception of scent, and Mr. Helferich grew to become her nose. He would explain a scent to her by conjuring a very similar style. The sweetness of jasmine, he’d convey to her, was like biting into a ripe honeydew melon.

Eventually, the couple started out their possess catering organization. And just just before 2008, they chased a extensive-held desire and purchased a restaurant. When the mortgage crisis strike, they closed the cafe and struggled in the aftermath. In 2018, Ms. Helferich died abruptly of a coronary heart problem.

Mr. Helferich, while reeling from his loss, was undaunted. At 73, he started to seem for do the job. His daughter, Jessica, recalled him telling a warden at Sumter, “If you give me a opportunity, I will do a great position even with my age.”

In addition to his brother and daughter, Mr. Helferich is survived by another brother, William, and a son, Tyler.

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