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Leah Chase ” Queen Of Creole Cuisine” dies at 96

 It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of an exceptional woman, New Orleans Icon and entrepreneur, Leah Chase the “Queen of Creole Cuisine.” She was 96 years old. It’s hard to imagine New Orleans culture and cuisine without thinking of her.

Leah Chase has fed presidents, civil rights leaders, celebrities and people from all walks of life, all at her historic restaurant, Dooky Chase. And has received the world’s highest honors for food and she’s also been recognized for her work in the New Orleans community for decades.

I send my heartfelt condolences to the Chase family and friends.

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About the Chef

Leah Chase

Known as the “Queen of Creole Cuisine,” Leah Chase has fed 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. Leah Chase has more recently served as the inspiration for Princess Tiana in Disney’s Princess and the Frog.

Born on January 6, 1923, in New Orleans, Chase was one of 14 children. She was raised in the small town of Madisonville, LA. There were no high schools for black children, so after sixth grade, Chase moved to New Orleans to live with an aunt. After completing high school, Chase had a colorful work history including managing two amateur boxers and becoming the first woman to mark the racehorse board for a local bookie. Her favorite job, though, was waiting tables in the French Quarter. It was here that she developed her love for food and feeding others.

In 1946, she married local musician Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr., whose father had 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.

In a town deeply divided by segregation, 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.

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 many 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 high praise among her most famous colleagues.

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, and the highest award presented to an individual by the Xavier University of Louisiana. The medal is not given annually. 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.

Many are attracted to her warmth and mastery of culinary arts, that to this day still excite the minds of those she serves. Ray Charles sang about her, and National and International Presidents have sought her out, but in all her ability to excite the palates of Leaders, she has remained steadfast in her ministry to all.

Source: https://www.dookychaserestaurant.com/chef

A native of New Orleans, who left her beloved New Orleans to spend twenty years of living in the land of Minnesota Not So Nice. Minnesota was full of opportunities but would learn that the soul of the state and the people who made it was just as icy cold as the temperatures. After the years and my 40th birthday flew by, I decided it was time to pack up my youngest child and come back to my roots, my birthplace the city that not only birthed me but gave me life. I would not be who I am without my New Orleans beginnings. I am all things that would challenge the belief of growing up in New Orleans. I was a 16yr old teen mother of a premature baby born with a severe medical disability. And only With the help of my mother, was it possible for me to BE! I was able to endure and survive the obstacles laid before my child and me. In a city that was built by my family, but did not allow for us to reap the benefits I overcame. Charity Hospital was my second home — a building filled with miracle workers who made it possible for my daughter to have life. I have lived a life of rainy days with peeks of sunshine, that are my children, including those not of my womb. I'm the proud mother of three and a grandmother of three. My dream was to live the life of the nursery rhyme of ”The Old Lady Who lived in a shoe,” and for the most part, I did. I cared for several children over the years as a special needs foster parent. I would learn that my love was not enough for some children, but I loved them through their pain. I'm not sure if I ever had a case of true love or came close to what love looks like on television, but I had my share of men and the mirage of love. I survived two abusive marriages. Though I longed to return to New Orleans on a daily bases, I must admit my move was one of the best decisions made for me. I am a college graduate; I was a successful entrepreneur. I coowned a soul food restaurant and catering company in Minnesota for 12 years. I developed the talent of creating custom cakes after the murder of my beloved cousin Melvin Paul. He survived Katrina only to go to Minneapolis six months later to be murdered over a parking spot dispute. But with the challenge of creating a simple wedding cake, I was able to find healing. I created the House of Cakes in honor of him. Minnesota life had me pretty materialistic. I worked to the point I do not remember much, but work and handing my children love money. I thought by having the big house on the hill, a husband, having a family, the ultimate provider and being involved in all things that matter, plus having the funds to match would cure me of what I was told was a generational curse of lack of everything from money, love to even self-love. But for the most part, that life poisoned my heart and soul. I was blinded by visions fed to me by the media. I was told I wasn't anything unless I was better than the Jones's. I lived being ok with a broken, bleeding heart. Life like this did not exist in my family while living in New Orleans from what I viewed with my eyes and soul. We may not have had all the things I acquired over the years, but we were happy, we were together. Family outside of New Orleans wasn't family anymore. We lived separate lives and had awkward moments when we bumped into each other in public. I hated living in Minnesota even though life their helped me in so many ways. I felt deep down the only way to repair it was to get back to my roots, my soul, my home, myself, my New Orleans. I'm here, and I love it. Even being in the so-called Blighted Area of New Orleans and not having all the financial and material security, I'm happy. I am determined that She, yes, New Orleans is a woman is just like me; together, we will overcome and will rise from all that tried to kill our spirit. Nothing like starting from the bottom and making your way back up!. I just know in my heart that New Orleans will provide for me. There's a bank account with funds in it owed to me by way of back pay for my ancestors. And I will receive my inheritance, and I will continue the traditions and customs of the old to keep the heartbeat of New Orleans beating. I'm down in the boot, living the life that feels right to me awaiting my destiny...

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