Leah Chase

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Leah Chase
Leah Chase in April 2008
Born (1923-01-06) January 6, 1923 (age 94)
Madisonville, Louisiana, United States
Education Colonial Restaurant, French Quarter, New Orleans, United States
Culinary career
Cooking style Creole

Leah Chase (born January 6, 1923) is a New Orleans chef, author and television personality. She is known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine, and advocates for African-American art and Creole cooking. Her restaurant, Dooky Chase, was known as a gathering place during the 1960s among many who participated in the Civil Rights movement,[citation needed] and was known as a gallery due to its extensive African-American art collection.

Chase has been the recipient of a multitude of awards and honors. In her 2002 biography, Chase's awards and honors occupy over two pages.[1] Chase was inducted into the James Beard Foundation's Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America in 2010.[2] She was honored with a lifetime achievement award from the Southern Foodways Alliance in 2000.[3] Chase received honorary degrees from Tulane University, Dillard University,[4][5] Our Lady of Holy Cross College, Madonna College,[6] Loyola University New Orleans,[7] and Johnson & Wales University. She was awarded Times-Picayune Loving Cup Award in 1997.[8][9] The Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana named a permanent gallery in Chase's honor in 2009.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Leah Chase was born to Creole parents in Madisonville, Louisiana, United States, she was one of 14 children. There weren't high schools for black children in Madisonville, so Leah Chase moved to New Orleans to live with relatives and attend St. Mary's Academy. After high school,Leah Chase held many jobs including managing two amateur boxers and became the first woman to mark the racehorse board for a local bookie. Chase's favorite job was working as a waitress at the Colonial Restaurant in the French Quarter in New Orleans, La. In 1946, she married musician Edgar "Dooky" Chase II, whose parents owned a street corner stand that sold lottery tickets and homemade po-boy sandwiches.[10] Chase began working at the restaurant during the 1950s, and over time, Leah and Dooky took over the stand and converted it into a sit down establishment. She eventually updated the menu to reflect her own family's Creole recipes. She also developed an interest in African-American art and began to display dozens of paintings by local African-American artists as well as hired local musicians to play in her bar.[11]

During the 1960s Dooky Chase became one of the only public places in New Orleans where people of color could meet and discuss strategies during the Civil Rights Movement. Local Civil Rights leaders such as A.P. Tureaud and Ernest "Dutch" Morial, would commonly meet at Dooky Chase for secret discussions. Leah Chase would later house the secret meetings and strategy discussions for Martin Luther King Jr. and the Freedom Riders. They would hold meetings and strategy discussions in her upstairs meeting rooms while she served them gumbo and fried chicken.[12] Leah Chase's restaurant was key when Martin Luther King Jr. and the Freedom Riders came to learn from the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott. As Martin Luther King Jr. and the Freedom Riders were beginning to organize their bus boycott in Montgomery, they would hold meetings with civil leaders from New Orleans and Baton Rouge in Dooky Chase's meeting rooms to learn about the bus boycotts in Baton Rouge. The plan and organization of the Montgomery bus boycotts were inspired by the boycotts in Baton Rouge. Dooky Chase became so popular, even though local officials knew about these "illegal" meetings the city or local law enforcement could not stop them or shut the doors of Dooky Chase because of the backlash from the public if they did.[13]

Dooky Chase became a stable in the black communities of New Orleans, La. Leah Chase and her husband Edgar "Dooky" Chase would host black voter registration campaign organizers, the NAACP, black political meetings and many other civil leaders at their restaurant. While there were no black owned banks in African-American communities, people would commonly go to Dooky Chase on Friday's where Leah Chase and her husband would cash checks for trusted patrons at the bar. Friday nights became popular at Dooky Chase where people would cash their checks, have a drink, and order a Po-boy.[14]

Dooky Chase's Restaurant with flood lines still visible, May 2006.

Dooky Chase's 5th Ward location was flooded by Hurricane Katrina and was not scheduled to reopen until the summer of 2006. To save Chase's African-American art collection from damage, her grandson placed the art collection in storage. The New Orleans restaurant community got together on April 14, 2006 (Holy Thursday) to hold a benefit,[15] charging $75 to $500 per person for a gumbo z'herbes, fried chicken, and bread pudding lunch at a posh French Quarter restaurant. The guests consumed 50 gallons of gumbo and raised $40,000 for the 82-year-old Mrs. Chase. Dooky Chase restaurant was scheduled to open April 5, 2007.[citation needed] It opened mostly for take-out and special events because of a shortage of trained waitstaff.

Since reopening the doors of Dooky Chase, Leah Chase has fed her creole cuisine to many important figures including both presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Later known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine, Leah Chase has won many awards and achievements in her lifetime. She was awarded "Best Fried Chicken in New Orleans" by NOLA.com in 2014.[16] Leah Chase has received the James Beard Lifetime Achievement in 2016 for her lifetime's body of work that has had a positive and the long lasting impact on the way people ate, cooked and thought about food in New Orleans.[17] Many world renowned chefs such as John Besh and Emeril Lagasse has honored Leah Chase and credited her with perfecting creole cuisine. Leah Chase has fed many celebrities, politicians and activist such as Ray Charles, Hank Aaron, Bill Cosby, and many other prominent figures in the African-American community. Ray Charles would sing in his song "Early Morning Blues" about waking up and going to Dooky Chase to get him something to eat.[18]

Operating under limited hours since Hurricane Katrina, Dooky Chase has always been busy while open. From Tuesday to Fridays from 11 A.M. to 3 P.M. people would have lines formed outside of the restaurant, sometimes wrapping around the corner. Leah Chase has expressed her concerns about the future of her restaurant since giving control of the business to family. Leah Chase envisions her restaurant as a modern version of what it once was. In a time where she would sell sandwiches and snacks from a walk-up window, the bar would be a social hub in the community again, and her restaurant would be open for lunch and dinner with an extended menu so more people could enjoy her food. According to the family of Leah Chase, the hours of operation and limited menu are to save Leah Chase from "her own work ethic". Leah Chase still works in the kitchen of Dooky Chase throughout all business hours and has been known to work and cook for events honoring her.[19]

In the 2012 revival of Tennessee Williams's classic New Orleans play A Streetcar Named Desire, which had an all-African-American cast, a mention of the restaurant Galatoire's (which was segregated during the play's post-war 1940s time period) was changed to a mention of Dooky Chase's Restaurant, which was integrated.[20]

In 2013, Leah Chase and her husband Edgar "Dooky" Chase Jr. founded the Edgar "Dooky" Jr. and Leah Chase Family Foundation. According to their official website, The Edgar "Dooky" Jr. and Leah Chase Family Foundation was founded to "cultivate and support historically disenfranichised organizations by making significant contributions to education, creative and culinary arts, and social justice."[21] Having spent her life advocating for civil rights, supporting local artist and musicians, and providing original creole cuisine this foundation is an extension of her passion. Through this foundation the Chase family has hosted several fundraising events to support children's educations such as music, art and history. Their foundation has been sponosored by many local businesses and organizations such as Liberty Bank, Metro Disposal, Popeyes, Entergy New Orleans and many others.[22]

Leah Chase inspired the Disney character Tiana of The Princess and the Frog.[23] In an interview done by Oprah.com, Leah Chase explained her joy and excitement about being the inspiration for a new Disney Princess. She reflects on the significance and importance of representation in films and Disney's approach to making sure the movie was done well. Also excited about becoming the first Disney princess to be depicted as an African-American, Leah Chase goes on to say, "They had a Cinderella, they had a Snow White, they had all types of little white princesses, so I guess the makers thought that it's about time we show a black princess.And that is the cutest thing, and they have done it in such a beautiful way." [24] Leah Chase also collaborated with Disney to create a cookbook to commemorate the movie entitled, The Princess and the Frog: Tiana's Cookbook.

She hosts a cooking show devoted to Creole cooking, and she is the author of several cookbooks.

Cookbooks by Leah Chase[edit]

The Art of Leah Chase[edit]

From April 24, 2012 to September 16, 2012, the New Orleans Museum of Art exhibited Leah Chase: Paintings by Gustave Blache III. The exhibition documented chef Leah Chase in the kitchen and the dining room at Dooky Chase Restaurant. Asked whether she thought the rendering was accurate, Chase, 89, said the young artist had gotten it right. “I told him, ‘You could have made me look like Halle Berry or Lena Horne, but you made it look like me,’” she said.[25]

Leah Chase in the Smithsonian[edit]

Blache's painting, Cutting Squash, from the exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art was acquired for its permanent collection by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in 2011. “We are always looking for portraits of nationally prominent figures,” National Portrait Gallery chief curator Brandon Fortune said. “It is a very interesting image of a woman at work, doing a very simple task, cutting squash,” . . . “But in some ways it transcends the everyday and becomes something of national significance.” Another one of the Smithsonian Institutions, National Museum of African History and Culture, came calling for another painting of Chase from the Blache series in 2013 to acquire Leah Red Coat Stirring (Sketch) in 2013. Leah Chase is the first chef who has two portraits is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution, both the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Leah Chase: Exhibition Catalogue[edit]

The catalogue for the exhibition Leah Chase: Paintings by Gustave Blache III was published by Hudson Hills Press in the Fall of 2012.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Judy Walker, The Times-Picayune. "The Queen of Creole Cuisine's latest honor is a museum gallery". NOLA.com. Retrieved 2011-06-30. 
  2. ^ "New Orleans chefs make list of James Beard food awards | wwltv.com New Orleans". Wwltv.com. 2010-03-22. Retrieved 2011-06-30. 
  3. ^ "SFA | Hall of Fame | Lifetime Achievement Award | Leah Chase". Southernfoodways.com. Retrieved 2011-06-30. 
  4. ^ "New Orleans, Louisiana Local News". Nola.com. 2009-09-30. Retrieved 2011-06-30. 
  5. ^ "Children's Defense Fund: Children's Defense Fund". Cdf.childrensdefense.org. Retrieved 2011-06-30. 
  6. ^ New Orleans Classic Desserts – Google Books. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2011-06-30. 
  7. ^ "Gov. Jindal, Guantanamo attorney to speak at 2009 Loyola commencement – Herbie Hancock to receive honorary degree – Loyola University New Orleans". Noah.loyno.edu. 2009-04-24. Retrieved 2011-06-30. 
  8. ^ "Loving Cup winners" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-07-29. 
  9. ^ Eliot Kamenitz / The Times-Picayune. "Leah Chase selected for 1997 T-P Loving Cup". NOLA.com. Retrieved 2011-06-30. 
  10. ^ Grimes, William (23 November 2016). "Edgar Chase Jr., Purveyor of Creole Cuisine, Dies at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 November 2016. 
  11. ^ "About the Chef - Dooky Chase's Restaurant". www.dookychaserestaurant.com. Retrieved 2016-12-05. 
  12. ^ Ferrand, Casey (2014-07-03). "Dooky Chase's Restaurant played key role in civil rights movement". WDSU. Retrieved 2016-12-02. 
  13. ^ "About the Chef - Dooky Chase's Restaurant". www.dookychaserestaurant.com. Retrieved 2016-12-02. 
  14. ^ "About Us - Dooky Chase's Restaurant". www.dookychaserestaurant.com. Retrieved 2016-12-02. 
  15. ^ The Times-Picayune Archive (2010-04-01). "Gumbo tradition lures the Holy Thursday faithful to Dooky Chase's Restaurant". NOLA.com. Retrieved 2011-06-30. 
  16. ^ "Leah Chase to be honored at Fried Chicken Festival". NOLA.com. Retrieved 2016-12-02. 
  17. ^ "Leah Chase: 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner". www.jamesbeard.org. Retrieved 2016-12-02. 
  18. ^ "Leah Chase to be honored at feast named for chef who paved the way". NOLA.com. Retrieved 2016-12-02. 
  19. ^ Knapp, Gwendolyn (2016-01-04). "93-Year-Old Legend Leah Chase Thinks Dooky Chase's Restaurant Could Be Better". Eater New Orleans. Retrieved 2016-12-03. 
  20. ^ NPR Staff (2012-04-21). "Blair Underwood On Stanley, Stella And 'Streetcar'". NPR.com. Retrieved 2012-04-23. 
  21. ^ "News - Dooky Chase Foundation". dookychasefoundation.org. Retrieved 2016-12-03. 
  22. ^ "Sponsors - Dooky Chase Foundation". dookychasefoundation.org. Retrieved 2016-12-03. 
  23. ^ Noyer, Jérémie (June 1, 2010). "The Princess And The Frog's Directors John Musker and Ron Clements take us to "the other side" of animation!". Animated Views. Animated Views. Retrieved 19 August 2013. 
  24. ^ "The Woman Behind Disney's Landmark Princess". Oprah.com. Retrieved 2016-12-04. 
  25. ^ MacCash, Doug. "Leah Chase likeness enshrined in the National Portrait Gallery". The Times-Picayune. The Times-Picayune. Retrieved 7 July 2014. 
  26. ^ Leah Chase: Paintings by Gustave Blache III. Hudson Hills Press. Fall 2012. ISBN 1-55595-378-6. Retrieved 7 July 2014. 

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