Honoring a Great New Orleanian
The City of New Orleans is a place with a rich and colorful history that’s spanned 300 years. One of those who have contributed to the legacy of this Great Historical City is the Queen of Creole Cuisine, Leah Chase, who recently celebrated her 95th birthday on January 6, 2018 at the Downtown Hyatt Regency New Orleans surrounded by family, friends, leaders from the civic and business community and other well-wishers. The proceeds from the gala supports the Edgar “Dooky” Jr. and Leah Chase Family Foundation. That’s dedicated to cultivate and support historically disenfranchised organizations by making significant contributions to education, cultural arts and social justice. Data News was at this amazing event honoring one of our local treasures that’s given the gift of our culture, flavor and the recipe for a great and inspiring life and sharing it with the world.
A Life Filled with Purpose and Passion
The amazing story of her long and storied life appears on Dooky Chase Restaurant website, dookychaserestauraunt.com; and as many have reported over the years including Data News Weekly; Leah Chase has fed greats in the world of entertainment and politics including Quincy Jones, Jesse Jackson, Duke Ellington, Thurgood Marshall, James Baldwin, Ray Charles, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and countless others as Executive Chef of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant — one of the best-known and most culturally significant restaurants in New Orleans.
Born on January 6, 1923 one of 14 children and in her early years being raised in the small town of Madisonville, LA. It was a time of segregation and limited opportunities for Blacks. There were no high schools for Black children, so after sixth grade, Chase moved to New Orleans to live with an aunt and began her interesting and colorful journey into leading a purposeful life of not just feeding people with her hearty gumbo, but feeding their souls by being an inspiration touching and influencing those who crossed her path.
In 1946, she married local musician the late Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr., whose father opened a street corner stand selling lottery tickets and his wife’s homemade po-boy sandwiches. Eventually, Leah and Dooky Jr. took over the business, which by then had become a sit-down restaurant and a favorite local gathering place. It is in this partnership that Leah Chase found a partner in not just business and raising a family, but through their restaurant on the frontlines of a tide of a social movement cresting not just in New Orleans, but throughout America for racial justice.
Leading the Way to Social Change In New Orleans
During the ugly times of segregation, the Crescent City as were many cities in the south felt the sting of legal segregation of the races. In these dark times Dooky Chase’s Restaurant was one of the only public places in New Orleans where mixed race groups could meet to discuss strategy for the local Civil Rights Movement. Although such gatherings were illegal through most of the 1960s, Dooky Chase’s was so popular; it would have caused a public uproar if local law enforcement had interrupted the meetings. Black voter registration campaign organizers, the NAACP, backdoor political meetings and countless others often found a home at Dooky Chase’s, and Leah cooked for them all.
Patron of African-American Art and Philanthropist
Chase is also a patron of Black art and her collection — displayed on the walls of her restaurant — was at one time considered New Orleans’ best collection of African-American art. To this day, she serves on the board of the New Orleans Museum of Fine Arts and has even testified before Congress to lobby for greater funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. She has participated in countless political campaigns and has used her culinary talents and celebrity to raise money for a myriad of charities and services. Her cookbooks, including The Dooky Chase Cookbook, And Still I Cook, and Leah Chase: Listen, I Say Like This, are popular and have received great praise among her most famous colleagues.
Leah Chase: A Life Filled with a Legacy of Love and Giving Back
Chase has received many awards, including multiple awards from the NAACP, the New Orleans Times-Picayune 1997 Loving Cup Award, the Weiss Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and the Outstanding Woman Award from the National Council of Negro Women. Chase was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America in 2010. She was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Foodways Alliance in 2000. Chase received honorary degrees from Tulane University, Dillard University, Our Lady of Holy Cross College, Madonna College, Loyola University New Orleans, and Johnson & Wales University. She is also the recipient of the Francis Anthony Drexel Medal, the highest award presented to an individual by Xavier University of Louisiana. Also, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana named a permanent gallery in Chase’s honor in 2009. She also serves on many boards, including the Arts Council of New Orleans, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the Urban League. She is a member of the Women of The Storm and the International Women’s Forum. She has four children, sixteen grandchildren and twenty-two great-grandchildren. Leah Chase’s life and legacy is a journey of greatness and continues to be an inspiration to those of her native New Orleans and beyond.