In the realm of culinary excellence and Black history in New Orleans, few figures have left as indelible a mark as Leah Chase. Author, TV personality, art collector, award-winning executive chef, co-owner of the historic Dooky Chase Restaurant, and beloved “Queen of Creole Cuisine,” Chase revolutionized the New Orleans culinary scene and helped heighten a platform that championed equality and social justice.
Born on Jan. 6, 1923, in Madisonville, Louisiana, Chase moved to New Orleans in 1937 to attend St. Mary’s Academy for high school. Her launch into culinary cuisine began shortly after graduating from Loyola when she met her soon-to-be husband, Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr.
With her help, the historic Dooky Chase restaurant became a staple for African American civil rights activists, intellectuals, and artists who used the restaurant as a meeting space to discuss unity in the face of segregation. Beyond the culinary realm, she used her influence to challenge racial barriers by hosting integrated events at the restaurant and providing hot meals to those who participated in the Civil Rights Movement.
As her career progressed, her legendary gumbo, jambalaya, and fried chicken continued to grow in popularity, drawing visitors from around the world, including entertainers such as Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Quincy Jones, Ray Charles and Duke Ellington, civil rights activists such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall, literary greats such as James Baldwin and former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and more.
Her innovative approach to Creole cooking and her passion for uplifting and preserving African American arts and culture earned her many accolades, including the coveted James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award and the establishment of the Leah Chase Endowed Chair in Distinguished Teaching at Dillard University.
At 96 years old, Chase died on June 1, 2019, leaving behind an immeasurable legacy that has continued to serve as a source of inspiration in New Orleans and the culinary community.
Her family is continuing her legacy with a new weekly cooking show, Leah’s Legacy, showcasing Chase’s coveted dishes. Chase serves as a reminder that the power of food can bring people together and effect positive change.
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly identified Dooky Chase Jr. as Dooky Chase and incorrectly reported that Leah Chase graduated from Loyola University. It was Leah Chase’s daughter who earned a degree from Loyola University. The story has been updated.
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