James Helferich, Artist in the Foods World and Prison Chef, Dies at 75

This obituary is part of a collection about men and women who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about many others in this article.

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

Anytime James Helferich established to function on a 300-pound block of ice, his co-personnel 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 work was just as enthralling: He worked the butter like clay, with a ceramist’s tools, forming fragile mermaids or educational institutions of fish that seemed to swim through the bounty of the banquet tables he oversaw.

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

Mr. Helferich died on Aug. 15 at a rehabilitation facility outdoors Ocala, Fla., immediately after four months on a ventilator. He was 75. The cause was issues of Covid-19, his brother Richard Helferich, reported.

Mr. Helferich developed his artistry all through a prolonged career in hospitality, mainly at topic parks in Florida. But late in everyday living he experienced a reversal of fortune, and rather of retiring embarked on a new chapter, getting get the job done two several years ago as director of food providers at the Sumter Correctional Establishment in Bushnell, Fla.

Prison foods is demanding, in part for the reason that cooks are specified authorities-issued factors and requested to adhere to rigid dietary tips. If the foods are inedible, you could possibly have a riot on your fingers. But Mr. Helferich was an unusual hire: He experienced been classically trained as a chef.

Mr. H., as he was recognised, took demand of Sumter’s kitchen, providing a few tasty foods to about 1,200 inmates. With his MacGyver touch, he fixed the ovens and a fridge. And just about every working day, he labored aspect by aspect with inmates in the kitchen, then sat down with them to share the food items they had organized.

As of Oct. 1, 103 inmates at the facility experienced examined optimistic for Covid-19, as had 35 staff members, in accordance to the Florida Section 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 capacity to take care of just about anything, a talent his son inherited. James’s mom, Eva (Gantos) Helferich, was a beautician who had her have elegance shop in Parma, a suburb of Cleveland, where by the family members lived.

James preferred to be a pilot, but his mother place the kibosh on that as a vocation — way too harmful, she explained — so he made a decision on cooking college as an alternative, and in 1965 he graduated from the Culinary Institute of The united states in Hyde Park, N.Y.

Mr. Helferich was drafted into the Army in 1968 and sent to West Germany as a mechanic regardless of his culinary chops. “Anybody can prepare dinner in the Army,” Richard Helferich said. “Not everyone can take care of things.”

He began a vocation in hospitality right after his discharge. He was food and beverage director at a range of parks in Florida, like the Miami Seaquarium and Silver Springs, close to Ocala.

Mr. Helferich achieved Frances Hewitt at SeaWorld, where by she was a fry cook dinner. They married in 1979. His spouse was born without the need of a sense of odor, and Mr. Helferich became her nose. He would describe a scent to her by conjuring a related flavor. The sweetness of jasmine, he’d explain to her, was like biting into a ripe honeydew melon.

Eventually, the few started their personal catering firm. And just right before 2008, they chased a extensive-held desire and acquired a restaurant. When the mortgage disaster hit, they shut the cafe and struggled in the aftermath. In 2018, Ms. Helferich died suddenly of a heart situation.

Mr. Helferich, though reeling from his loss, was undaunted. At 73, he began to appear for work. His daughter, Jessica, recalled him telling a warden at Sumter, “If you give me a chance, I will do a excellent task irrespective of my age.”

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

Dorothy E. Tabor

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