Leah Chase, Queen of Creole Cuisine & Activist, Dies At 96
Leah Chase, the legendary New Orleans chef known for her extraordinary Creole cuisine and as well for her role in feeding and orchestrating pivotal points of the civil rights movement, died on Saturday at the age of 96.
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As executive chef and co-owner of Dooky Chase’s restaurant, Chase made the eatery thee place for the African American community of New Orleans and a meeting place for organizers of the civil rights movement.
In 1946, Chase, with her signature big smile, transformed what was a casual sandwich shop into a destination dining establishment full of flavorful signature dishes, important conversation and much laughs. Many restaurants in the city’s famous French Quarter neighborhood were too expensive and for whites only, so she changed all that when her restaurant, Dooky Chase, began feeding civil rights icons like the Freedom Riders. It was one of the few places in the city of New Orleans where blacks and whites came together, sometimes illegally.
“See blacks had nothing, nothing at all. No nice places,” explained Chase to NPR. A little corner shop, or little something, but I saw on the other side of town, those nice restaurants, I said, ‘how come we can’t have that? A space where people can dress nice and feel comfortable sitting down, taking your time.'”
Martin Luther King Jr., Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Nat King Cole and Ray Charles were just some of the famous guests who ate at Chase’s restaurant.
Plus, Chase knew what everyone’s favorite dish was: The Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. liked barbecued ribs, and James Baldwin preferred gumbo. The singer Sarah Vaughan ordered stuffed crab to go, and Nat King Cole always wanted eggs.
“In my dining room, we changed the course of America over a bowl of gumbo and some fried chicken,” you would hear her often say.
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Chase visited the restaurant frequently and continued to supervise the kitchen well into her 90s.
Now, a restaurant in the Louis Armstrong New Orleans Intentional (MSY) Airport will honor Leah Chase. The restaurant will be featured in the new terminal and will be called Leah’s Kitchen.
Chase’s grandson, Edgar Chase IV, will operate the restaurant which will serve classic creole cuisine, according to MSY.
In a statement given to NPR, Chase’s family said Leah wanted Dooky Chase’s restaurant to serve as a…