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Andrea Cagle (Photo: Courtney Freeman)

Andrea Cagle's dad was a cook in the U.S. Army, so did he influence her career aspirations?

"He certainly did and was very supportive of my going to culinary school," says Cagle, a local caterer. "He encouraged me to pursue my dream of becoming a chef."

But it wasn't something she pursued immediately after high school. First, she went to nursing school in her hometown of Huntsville, Alabama, following in her mother's footsteps. She was a lab technician and phlebotomist in a pediatrician's office, then worked in a medical business office for 14 years before realizing "that wasn't for me," she says.

At age 38, Cagle entered Le Cordon Bleu in Tucker, Georgia, and pursued a career that came naturally to her, receiving an associate's degree in the culinary arts.

She worked in several restaurants following graduation, among them: Steak & Ale, Ruby Tuesday, Blue Orleans, Porter's Steakhouse, St. John's Restaurant and Alleia, all in Chattanooga. In 2005, however, she transitioned into catering and started Kozy Cooking Catering. In addition to catering, Cagle is president of the Chattanooga chapter of the American Culinary Federation and teaches a culinary class at Chattanooga State Community College.

Q: What's one of your best memories of cooking with your dad?

A: The holiday — Thanksgiving and Christmas — meals we would make together. He passed away four years ago. He taught me how to make cornbread dressing, and now, every time I make it, everyone says it's just like his, though I'm not convinced. But it's close.

Q: Why did you decide to go into catering rather than continuing in the restaurant business?

A: I enjoy the versatility of catering and working with different people to create unique menus.

Q: But do you ever find yourself missing working in a restaurant?

A: Yes, sometimes — I miss the everyday grind.

Q: Do you ever plan to return to the restaurant business?

A: I'd like to get back into it. I have a business partner, Luronda Jennings. She's a wine specialist, and together, we do seasonal wine-and-food pairings at various restaurants and locations around town, like Alleia, The Gallery on Dayton Boulevard and 2 on the Roof. Now, Luronda and I are looking for a space to open a restaurant and wine bar.

Q: What's your proudest moment as a chef?

A: When I was selected to cook for President [Barack] Obama at his 2013 inauguration.

Q: What did you make?

A: Pasta two ways with white and red sauces.

Q: Were you nervous cooking for him?

A: I'm always a little nervous when I cook for someone for the first time. I get even more nervous when I cook for other chefs, like when I cooked for Iron Chef Cat Cora and Aaron Sanchez, co-host of "Chopped" on the Food Network.

Q: As president of the ACF Chattanooga chapter, how do you think the ACF influences Chattanooga's food scene?

A: It gives chefs a place to network with other professional chefs as well as inspiring future culinarians and educating others about the culinary industry.

Q: As a culinary teacher, are you seeing more young people wanting to pursue a culinary career?

A: I am, but I always say it's not enough to just love to cook. Choosing it as a career is very different from cooking at home for your family or friends. You must have passion for cooking to stay in the business and become successful. It's really hard work.

Q: So is there a certain trait you see in a student and know right away they'll make it as a chef?

A: Yes, I have to see their passion for food and then see how deeply they engulf themselves in learning about the culinary craft.

Q: What's your favorite meal of the day, and what would be one of your top meals for spring?

A: I enjoy a hearty meal paired with a good bottle of wine, so it would have to be dinner. I like these shrimp cakes. I serve them with a spicy aioli alongside a fresh green salad with fresh veggies and heirloom tomatoes.

Shrimp Cakes With Spicy Aioli

1 pound raw shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

1/2 cup sliced green onions (about 5 onions, green and white parts)

1 egg

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced

1/4 cup flour

1/2 cup vegetable oil

Spicy aioli:

1 cup mayonnaise

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoons sriracha hot sauce

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Juice from 1 lime (2 tablespoons)

Salt and pepper, to taste

For shrimp cakes: Mix together shrimp, bread crumbs, onions, egg, onion powder, garlic, parsley and flour; form into small (2-inch) cakes. Put in refrigerator for 30-60 minutes to allow them to set. Heat oil to medium heat in a frying pan, using just enough oil to coat the bottom for each batch. Fry shrimp cakes on both sides until crispy and cooked through (see note). Don't overcook. Serve with spicy aioli.

For aioli: Combine all ingredients, chill and serve with shrimp cakes.

Note: If using red shrimp, the cakes will be done when they turn a red color.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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