4 Ways The Late Chef Leah Chase Helped Shape New Orleans’ Food Scene

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On Saturday, an important figure in the culinary world died, leaving behind her legacy as "the Queen of Creole Cooking," per Grub Street. The contributions New Orleans chef Leah Chase made to the food world are numerous, and deeply embedded in, among other things, the American Civil Rights Movement. Visited by a multitude of celebrities, activists, and political figures alike, Chase's reputation will live on in both her restaurant and her recipes.

The New Orleans restaurant opened in 1941, and, per the AP, was renamed after Chase's husband five years later. Dubbed Dooky Chase's, the name it goes by today, the restaurant specializes in Creole dishes like gumbo and fried chicken. It has been visited by the likes of Barack Obama, George W. Bush, James Baldwin, Beyoncé, and Jay-Z, among others, per Grub Street.

An establishment that has been around as long as Dooky Chase's has is bound to witness major culture shifts, and that was definitely the case for the iconic Louisiana restaurant. From feeding jailed civil rights activists to presidential hopefuls, Chase and her recipes were privy to countless historical events in the last nearly eight decades. Every bit of lore surrounding the chef indicates that she was as much about breaking down barriers as she was about bringing people together.

The City's First Desegregated "White-Tablecloth" Restaurant

When Chase decided to seat white and black customers in the same dining room, she was breaking New Orlean's segregation laws, the AP reports. But it was important to her that people of color in New Orleans have the same fine dining options that their white counterparts already did.

Per the AP, Chase came up with the idea of introducing finer dining setups to the restaurant after her experience waitressing in New Orleans' French Quarter. Ultimately, Dooky Chase's benefited from her ideas, which included white tablecloths, silverware on tables, and expanded Creole offerings.

"When I came I said, 'No, we gonna do like we do on the other side of town. We gonna change things.' That took a lot of doing, but we did it and I insist on service," Chase told CNN before she died.

A Place For Civil Rights Strategizing

White and black lawyers who worked within the civil rights movement used to gather at Dooky Chase's to strategize, the AP reports. The restaurant offered a desegregated venue for gathering and eating together, specifically after the 1954 Brown v. of Education ruling.

"It was a haven for them to refresh themselves with wonderful gumbo and it was a place where they could strategize after a hard day's work," Sybil Morial, wife of the city's first African American mayor, told the AP in a 2016 report.

Her Iconic Gumbo Z'herbes

The New York Times reports that Chase's gumbo z’herbes, which she served on Holy Thursday, was so popular that people made reservations a year in advance. The recipe, per The Times, includes nine different types of greens.

Perfectly Seasoned Gumbo

A popular story about Chase recounts the time that then-presidential candidate Barack Obama visited Dooky Chase's. During a 2008 stop at the restaurant, Chase reportedly slapped Obama's hand out of the way when he tried to spice up her gumbo with some Tabasco sauce, prior to even trying it.

Chase and her restaurant have been referenced in a multitude of pop culture artifacts, including a cameo in Beyoncé's Lemonade, per Eater. She was also the inspiration for Princess Tiana of Disney's The Princess and the Frog, Deadline reports. Although the food world has lost an icon, her reputation and contributions to the culinary sphere will undoubtedly live on.