Cooking for the President and a few of his friends: Katy Perry, Usher and Alicia Keys

Apr 4, 2013

Chef Andrea Cagle discovered that to prepare food for the President and 18,000 of his closest friends, it takes more than superb culinary training and experience.

It also takes a clean record.

When the Secret Service performed routine background checks on the culinarian, her employers dating back 16 years had kind things to say about her.

That screening process was only one of the unusual steps taken as a 2,000-person culinary workforce was assembled for the parties that would take place during President Obama's inauguration in January. Ms. Cagle, or Chef Andi as she likes to be called, got the request just after the November election because of a personal connection.

Chef Andi, a chef instructor and program director at Culinard, the Culinary Institute of Virginia College in Chattanooga, Tenn., was selected as the Executive Chef for the Ambassador's Ball to take place in the Carnegie Library.

She arrived a week early and joined the team that was prepping for all four balls (which would total 18,000 guests) around Washington, D.C. One of her more memorable assignments during this time was hand-crafting 80 "lilies" made from fennel bulbs for various tropical flower arrangements.

Three days before the January 21 event, her staff joined her: 15 cooks, a wait staff of 20, and seven support staffers. The work days lasted 10 to 14 hours, all within eyeshot of representatives from the Food and Drug Administration whose job was to ensure food safety for President Obama and his guests.

On inauguration night, the menu was simple for the 1800 guests at the Ambassador's Ball: raw vegetables, hummus, three kinds of pasta with two sauces, and various other dishes.

In addition to serving the President and his family, Chef Andi and her crew also served celebrities Katy Perry, Usher and Alicia Keys, who performed at the ball.

What was Chef Andi feeling during the 17-hour work day?

"Stress. And pressure. I knew I could do it since I've been in charge of serving other big groups, but I wanted it to be perfect."

When asked how her experience can help inspire her Culinard students, she replies, "It's simple. In your culinary career, build good relationships with people. It's not all about money. You never know who you'll meet. Volunteer. Don't shut the door on any opportunity."

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