Chef Leah Chase: Meet the Queen of Creole Cuisine

October 27 - On The Dot
 
FIRST THOUGHT: Food From the Heart

For the holidays last year, a thoughtful cousin gifted me a collection of handwritten recipes from the family. These cursive instructions for delicious concoctions quickly became one of my most cherished possessions.

It got me thinking about how food isn’t just about filling our bellies; it’s about connection, whether that means connecting with a person on the first date at a cozy café or connecting with the meals your grandmother made and her grandmother made. Today, grab a pen and write down a favorite recipe and gift it to someone you love.

WOMEN IN NUMBERS: 600 More

When Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans in 2005, the idea of rebuilding felt like a monstrous task. Where was an entire city to start? Fortunately, New Orleans has some of the most resilient and resolute citizens, so, 10 years later, the city is perhaps doing better than ever.

As evidence of this, one needs look no further than New Orleans’ thriving restaurant scene. As of mid-2015, a full decade after Katrina, there were 600 more restaurants in NOLA than the city had before the hurricane. That’s a total of 1,400 eateries, from hole-in-the-wall joints and upscale brasseries to classic Creole spots and fusion-cuisine diners. Is anybody else getting hungry?

WOMAN TO WATCH: Chef Leah Chase, Chef and Owner of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant

Today’s Woman to Watch is one of New Orleans’ most celebrated cooks. Her name is Chef Leah Chase and she’s the owner of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, NOLA’s premier eatery for authentic Creole cuisine.

Dooky Chase is located in one of the oldest African-American neighborhoods in the city, called Treme, and is famous for its Creole fare, a style of food that has a rich French history and borrows from the best of New Orleans’ various cultures. It’s complicated to define, but that’s what makes it oh so delicious.

Known as the queen of Creole cuisine, Leah, who’s now in her 90s, has long been a staple of New Orleans’ restaurant world. In 1946, she married Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr., whose father ran a street-corner stand selling lottery tickets and his wife’s homemade po’boy sandwiches. Leah and her husband took over the business, upgrading it to a sit-down restaurant featuring Leah’s beloved Creole cuisine and adding a remarkable collection of African-American art to the décor. By the 1960s, the restaurant had become a spot for mixed-race groups to gather and discuss the local civil rights movement, with black and white diners eating meals in the same room—unheard of, considering the segregation laws at the time.

Leah ensures the Dooky Chase menu is ever evolving. Though favorites like her award-winning fried chicken, gumbo and po’boys are always available, specialties like fried oysters, Red Fish Orleans, stuffed shrimp and praline pudding are not to be missed. But what else might you expect from Leah, who recently became the first African-American to receive the James Beard Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award?

This celebrated chef and cookbook author has touched many with her superb cuisine, so much so that she’s been asked to make some unusual appearances in the pop-culture realm. Leah made her music-video debut this year in Beyoncé’s Lemonade video, and she was the inspiration for Disney’s first African-American princess, Tiana from The Princess and the Frog.

You don’t get to the top of the culinary world by being bashful, so it’s no surprise Leah isn’t afraid to speak her mind about the dos and don’ts of Creole cuisine—even to the soon-to-be world’s most powerful man. When Barack Obama visited Dooky Chase’s in 2008 on a campaign trip, Leah scolded him for putting hot sauce on his gumbo!

QUITE THE QUOTE

Today’s quote is from the queen of Creole cuisine herself, Chef Leah Chase, who knows a thing or two about pursuing success. She said:

“To be a woman, you have to look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man and work like a dog.”

This is Melinda Garvey signing off until next time. Remember, ladies, empowered women empower other women. Share On the Dot so more women can have a voice. Thanks for getting ready with us.

To learn more about our conversation, check us out at OnTheDotWoman.com and talk to us @OnTheDotWoman on Twitter and Instagram. We’d love to hear your voice.

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