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*Leah Chase was born on this date in 1923. She was a Black entrepreneur and master chef.
Leah Lange Chase was born and raised in a small, country town across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans. Her childhood values came from her parents, hard work, faith and family. After rejecting the usual occupations for respectable Creole girls to work in a restaurant in the French Quarter, Leah married Edgar "Dooky" Chase II and began running the kitchen for her mother-in-law.
After her mother-in-law’s death, Leah nurtured the former po’-boy shop and numbers business into a world-class restaurant. Dooky Chase was one of a handful of restaurants in the country where African Americans could sit down to a nice meal in well-appointed surroundings. The restaurant was and still is frequented by prominent Black actors, athletes, artists, writers, and musicians. It has also always been a gathering place for local politicians and activists.
Chase became a living legend for popularizing Creole cuisine, for her political activism, for her tireless work for numerous organizations, and for her extensive art collection. Through it all, she raised four children and survived the sudden loss of the daughter with whom she worked closely and a bombing during the 20th century American Civil Rights era. What has borne her through it all is perhaps the most compelling aspect of this amazing woman: her faith and her family. In her roles as chef of the most popular Creole restaurant in New Orleans, nationally respected patron of the arts, and civic leader, she has influenced the world around her in important ways. Reading her story makes one think, "If she can do it, maybe I can too."
In 2012, the New Orleans Museum of Art exhibited Leah Chase: Paintings by Gustave Blache III. The exhibition documented chef Leah Chase in the kitchen and the dining room at Dooky Chase Restaurant. “Asked whether she thought the rendering was accurate, Chase, said the young artist had gotten it right. “You could have made me look like Halle Berry or Lena Horne, but you made it look like me.” The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery acquired Blache’s painting, Cutting Squash, from the exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art for its permanent collection in 2011. The catalogue for the exhibition Leah Chase: Hudson Hills Press published Paintings by Gustave Blache III in 2012.
Leah Chase died on June 1, 2019.
Image: Atlanta Magazine