Leah Chase,‘ Queen of Creole Cuisine’ and Civil Rights Icon Dies at 96


“Her daily joy was not simply cooking but preparing meals to bring people together. One of her most prized contributions was advocating for the Civil Rights Movement through feeding those on the front lines of the struggle for human dignity,” Chase’s family said in a statement announcing her death. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Blake Nelson Boyd, [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)]

Known as the “Queen of Creole Cuisine,” Leah Chase carved out quite the niche in and around New Orleans for more than six decades.

During that time, she fed individuals like 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.

“If your soul is in New Orleans, I know what to give you,” Chase once said in response to being asked if she served soul food.

“I’m going to give you some jambalaya. I can give you some stewed chicken. I can give you some shrimp Creole,” she said.

The renowned cook and freedom fighter, Chase died on Saturday, June 1. She was 96.

“Her daily joy was not simply cooking but preparing meals to bring people together. One of her most prized contributions was advocating for the Civil Rights Movement through feeding those on the front lines of the struggle for human dignity,” Chase’s family said in a statement announcing her death.

“She saw her role and that of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant to serve as a vehicle for social change during a difficult time in our country's history,” the family said.

Born on January 6, 1923 in New Orleans, Chase was one of 14 children. She was raised in the small town of Madisonville, Louisiana.

There were no high schools for black children, so after sixth grade, Chase moved to New Orleans to live with an aunt, according to her official biography.

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 there 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.