Leah Chase, the famed New Orleans chef who introduced a country to Creole cuisine, has died at age 96. Chase, who bucked segregation laws by seating black and white customers together, impressed palates across town for seven decades.
CNN says that the chef and civil rights leader “fed presidents and Freedom Riders” alike. Her family released a statement following her death on Saturday in New Orleans.
“Leah Chase, lovingly referred to as the Queen of Creole Cuisine, was the executive chef and co-owner of the historic and legendary Dooky Chase’s Restaurant.”
The statement continued, saying that Chase not only found joy in cooking but also in bringing people together. She spoke of advocating for the Civil Rights Movement as one of her most prized contributions.
Chase was born and raised in Louisiana and started working in restaurants in the French Quarter as a server in the ’40s, which is where she met and married local jazz musician Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr. in 1946. The couple took over his father’s sandwich shop in the Treme neighborhood and turned it into a sit-down Creole restaurant and African-American art gallery.
Chase says she drew upon her childhood and Sunday meals when it came to laying out a table at the restaurant.
“On Sunday we did have a white tablecloth and napkins, and we had that fried chicken and the baked macaroni, so Sunday was what you looked forward to.”
Chef Leah Chase, civil rights activist and legendary 'Queen of Creole Cuisine,' dies at age 96https://t.co/bmRFA3Oayt Thanks to People like her, we become a better Nation! At @WCKitchen we will pay respect to your legacy of Feeding and healing one meal at the time!
— José Andrés (@chefjoseandres) June 2, 2019
Chase brought a sense of formality to her Treme restaurant, injecting some of the customs from French Quarter restaurants. She insisted that there would be no ketchup bottles on the table. She said she turned things around saying that things were going to be done the way they were treating customers on the other side of town by providing people of the Treme with elegant service.
“We gonna change things. That took a lot of doing, but we did it, and I insist on service.”
In the 1960s, Dooky Chase became a safe space for activists, voter registration and NAACP meetings. People could come in and meet and plan over “a bowl of gumbo and some fried chicken.”
Chase even inspired a Disney character, Princess Tiana, in the movie, The Princess and the Frog. In a Twitter post quoted by CNN, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said that Chase left a profound legacy and impression on the city of New Orleans.
“She was a culture-bearer in the truest sense,” Cantrell said. “We are poorer for her loss, and richer for having known and having loved her. She will be badly missed.”