A butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker . . . doesn’t it seem that other people always have the Cool Jobs? Their careers are exciting, stimulating, challenging but in gratifying ways. They’re thrilled to get up in the morning and no two days are alike so they never get bored or burned out. These lucky individuals often have interesting anecdotes to go along with their fascinating jobs. In this special section, we share the stories of six local individuals and what they enjoy doing for a living. You just might be inspired to reinvent yourself!
Amanda Cusey says she’s been in the restaurant business since the age of 14, when she worked the front of house at a steak restaurant in North Carolina. After a few years, she asked the manager if she could switch over to the kitchen. “And that is where my cooking career started. I soon realized I was pretty good at it. So, I decided to travel and attend culinary school in England.”
Cusey received her Le Cordon Bleu training at the Tanté Marie Culinary Academy. After stints in British pubs and an Irish American diner, she found her way to Italian cooking in the heart of Dublin. She worked at Eatily, an Italian-inspired pop up by Michelin Star chef Oliver Dunne; and served as head chef at an Italian restaurant called Fiorentina.
In 2016, Cusey came to Lake Charles and accepted the role of executive chef at Villa Harlequin. Not long after, she was featured on the cover of Acadiana Profile magazine’s Best Chef issue.
Despite her experience with transitions, Cusey says moving to Southwest Louisiana was “a culture shock” but with her background in French cuisine, it was an easy shift to Louisiana-style cooking. Cusey describes her culinary style as a mix between traditional and Italian/French. “I was trained in French cooking, so that has a lot of influence in how I cook. Then I got thrown into Italian cooking. So, it’s a mash-up of those two styles. And since I’ve been living in Louisiana, I try to throw some southern flair into it.” At the Villa, she tries to keep it traditional Italian cooking, but she uses different cooking techniques and often creates an Italian/Louisiana fusion.
When Cusey thinks about food and menu planning, she considers flavor, freshness, and the response of her customers. She loves seeing the joy her food brings to people. “Sometimes you can catch me peeking out the kitchen window looking at someone eating at the bar, and I watch their face as they take that first bite. Seeing their eyes light up because something was better than they expected is pretty rad!”
Jeremy Pricestarted creating wall-sized paintings around 2009 while studying fine art and criminal justice at McNeese State University. He was asked to do a few graffiti and mural jobs for local businesses and residents in and around Lake Charles, and soon garnered a reputation as a skilled muralist.
You can find examples of Price’s work all over the City of Lake Charles. “My most memorable project is “Breathe”, a mural to cover the “Before I Die” wall (formerly on the SE corner of Ryan and Broad Streets) that had been vandalized. That project really set everything in motion for me to be a successful professional artist. I later donated that mural to The Grand Church. Of course, all the work Dave Evans has me create at Luna Bar & Grill in Lake Charles and Lafayette are my most enjoyable because of the freedom and love involved. The Crying Eagle murals are another favorite, and for the same reasons. Eric Avery shows love, and like Dave, he has a creative spirit, and those projects just flow like good craft beers. The pelican mural at L’Auberge was awesome for the same reasons – so much love and freedom. The “Grapes” mural (on the side of Cotton’s Downtown on Broad St.) was super cool and a great time with some artist friends who helped. I love working with Chris Shearman, and Kate Cotten made sure we were fueled with hot breakfasts and great burgers.” Price also collaborated with artist Candice Alexander on a giant “Tree of Life” mural on the side of the Charleston Building. Price adds, “The Walgreens/Elmers mural restoration (corner of Ryan and Broad Streets) was important to my partner on that job and me and everyone downtown.” While artistically gratifying, mural painting comes with its share of hazards, including exposure to chemicals and a risk of falling.
When asked if he has a favorite mural, Price says, “There are so many, and every new project is my favorite. I love meeting new people and keeping old friends – it’s life. God has blessed me with the ability to chase my dreams and the courage to never give up. He is good!”
Ryan O’Donnell assumed the role of Head Brewer at Crying Eagle Brewing in June 2021, though he had been working toward such a position for many years. What began as a hobby in 1995 eventually became an obsession. He began making plans to open his own brewery one day. In 2018, after a successful career as a marketing consultant, he decided to leave corporate America and pursue his dreams of working in the brewing industry. O’Donnell became involved in the Louisiana Craft Brewers Guild, where he met Eric Avery, Founder and CEO of Crying Eagle Brewing. The pair became fast friends. “Eric and I had an immediate connection, and over time we realized how significantly our visions and goals aligned. We realized we could accomplish great things together and I was graciously asked to join the team.”
As a brewer in today’s craft beer industry, O’Donnell says his job requires a high level of scientific expertise, creative artistry, and obsessive-compulsive organization. “My days can be filled with any number of the many processes involved in beer recipe development, beer brewing, fermentation, packaging, lab testing, experimentation, working with suppliers, etc. Also cleaning. Lots and lots and lots of cleaning. Every day is unique, exciting and full of challenges.”
When O’Donnell first began brewing, there were few formal education options available. “I learned everything I could from reading, experimenting, and making lots of mediocre beer . . . but always measuring and improving. After over 25 years, I still find that there is so much to learn and improve upon. And that’s what I love most about being a brewer.”
Since arriving at Crying Eagle, O’Donnell has developed and brewed 26 new beers, with more debuting nearly every week; but don’t ask him which is his favorite. “That’s like asking a parent to tell you which is their favorite child.
I like some more than others, but they all have a special place in my heart.” O’Donnell says he feels lucky to have made a career out of something for which he has endless passion and energy. “I love my coworkers who share in that passion and constantly strive for excellence. What we do is incredibly hard work . . . but it’s also incredibly rewarding.”
Cody Porché spent five years in manned aviation where he managed an international fleet of helicopters in India, Mexico, Thailand and Brazil. During those earlier years, he recognized a need for affordable aerial imagery and jumped on the opportunity. “What started out as a side hustle quickly evolved into much more. Only a few years later, I allocated 100% of my time to create Porché Aerial Imagery.”
In addition to managing a small business, Porché’s role consists of operating unmanned aircraft to produce a myriad of deliverables for clients. He says the benefits are widespread and vary depending on the specific industry to which he conducts flight missions. “One major benefit is the lower risk factor by the use of drones vs. manned aircraft. Simply not having a “soul” on board is by far the most significant benefit. Secondly, the reduction of overhead allows for my company to provide affordable aerial services compared to historical means, such as planes or helicopters.”
Porché earned a master’s degree in business which has been a catalyst for his entrepreneurial mindset. But his skills as an aerial photographer have evolved with experience. “While my profession does require industry proficiency and a completed examination at an FAA testing center, most of my training has come from hands-on experience. In nearly eight years, I’ve logged over 6,500 hours behind the sticks. My confidence with controllers and joysticks stemmed greatly from playing video games throughout my life.”
No two days are the same for Porché and he has filled hundreds of requests for a wide variety of clients. Some of his most memorable projects include post-hurricane and flooding assignments, including documentation of hurricane recovery efforts and seeking out debris obstructing drainage laterals. “I am proud to be an integral part of situations where deliverables can be used immediately. There is no greater feeling than helping the community and seeing infrastructure improvements directly from the data obtained while in the air.”
Porché says he loves flying drones for a living. “My responsibilities are challenging and exciting at the same time, enough to keep me on my toes. I look forward to future technologies and continuing to provide SWLA with the highest level of aerial imagery possible.”
Landscape Design Consultant and Build Manager,
Richie Everage’s interest in working with plants began when he worked for a florist/nursery in college. “I got to see a world of excess and fashion I had never experienced before – everything from over-the-top weddings and Christmas decorations to beautiful landscape jobs. I had no idea you could have things like koi ponds and flagstone patios and walkways and plant hundreds of flats of flowers at one house. It was truly eye-opening and started me on my 26-year career path.”
Everage earned a Landscape Horticulture License and ran his own business, Everage Exterior Aspects, for several years. “We specialized in pond and landscape construction. I only employed three to four people and had two trucks.” In 2003 Everage moved on and started working at Magnolia Nursery, where their specialty was pond construction, landscape design and do-it-yourself services, as well a full service nursery. “Everything changed after Hurricane Rita. That business closed and I started working with Doyle Pennick at Landscape Management Services, which held a big market share. This job pushed me and my skills to a much higher level. I get to work with landscape architects from all over the country.”
As the Design Build Manager, Everage designs and approves all the plans Landscape Management Services puts out for construction or do-it-yourself services. He also manages all construction for the company, which requires juggling a lot of moving pieces, from crews to materials and deliveries, as well as designs. “We always have different projects in different stages of development. I love pushing the design envelope and trying new things that have not been done in our area,” says Everage. “I realize this comes with the risk of failure, but that forces me to keep my skills sharp. Any failure along the way has only made me better. I learn something from every project.”
Lifelong learning is a passion for Everage. He studied fire science in college and has had very little formal training in landscape design; but he attends Louisiana Agriculture classes at state nursery shows to learn as much as he can to best serve his clients. “I feel the working knowledge and experience I have gained during my career is as important as anything else. Everything is about form and function.”
Two of Everage’s favorite projects include Millennium Park and Prien Lake Park. “For both of these, we started with a blank slate and I believe they are good examples of what we can do at Landscape Management.”
Everage says he can’t imagine doing anything else. “This job is so rewarding. I love getting to know my clients, learning how they will live in the space I’m designing and executing a successful completed project that shows what is possible and exceeds their expectations. As an added bonus, I really enjoy making the world a prettier place.”
Even as a child, Kara Adams knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. She says she watched Rescue 911 and other police-related shows and movies. “They were always so exciting to me and I believe the reason I was so driven into this career.”
Kara became a police officer in 2003 and has been a detective in the Sex Crimes Division at CPSO for four years. “I became interested in sex crimes when I was in the Police Academy and the Lieutenant of Sex Crimes at the time did a presentation. I knew then, this is where I wanted to be,” she says.
Kara thrives on the challenges of her role. Her days might find her digging through a dumpster for evidence or talking to victims and listening to their stories. She says finding all the facts to secure a successful prosecution is the most challenging, but also the most important. Patience is another challenge she faces. “Our survivors get impatient because the process from reporting a crime all the way through prosecution often takes years. That is frustrating for me, even though I understand why it takes time. I have never been patient and I sometimes wonder if God put me in this position to teach me patience.”
Kara began paying attention to Sex Crimes Detectives during her days on Patrol when she would be the initial officer on scene and detectives would be called out. Once assigned to the Sex Crimes Division, she received on-the-job training and spent a week just learning interview and interrogation techniques. “We learn new things all the time, especially with the advances in computer and DNA technology, and we work hard to stay up to speed.”
Working in the Sex Crimes Division can be very emotional, but Kara has learned to “turn off work” when she goes home. “Otherwise, I would be a super angry person if I left work every day thinking about the horrible things other human beings do to children and other adults. That is not to say there are not days when I go home, draw a bath and cry. Those days are few and far between but are needed sometimes. I don’t think you can do this job and not have those days.”
Kara encourages anyone to follow their occupational dreams, and never let anyone say you can’t do something. “You certainly can, and I am proof that with hard work, you truly can accomplish anything you set your mind to.”