About the Chef
Emeritus Leah Chase
Known as the “Queen of Creole Cuisine,” Leah Chase has fed 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. Leah Chase has more recently served as the inspiration for Princess Tiana in Disney's Princess and the Frog.
LEAH CHASE was born on January 6, 1923 in New Orleans to Charles and Hortensia Raymond Lange. Leah was raised in Madisonville, Louisiana along with her sisters and brothers, Cleo, Eleanor, Grace, Sylvia, Yvette, Adonicia, Eula, Charles, Janice, and Hayes. Leah often shared her fond memories of picking strawberries alongside her sisters, running errands for Aunt Lou, getting water from the well for Grandma, and babysitting for Aunt Effie. She preferred the chore of cleaning up the house as opposed to cooking and always following what “Daddy” said, “Pray, work and do for others.” After finishing sixth grade at St. Francis Xavier Elementary and because there were no high schools for African American children, she moved to New Orleans and lived with her Aunt Anais. Following her graduation from St. Mary’s High School she would begin a very colorful work history including working at the Oriental Laundry, sewing, 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 here that she developed her love for food and feeding others.
In 1946, she married local musician Edgar“Dooky” Chase Jr., and leader of the Dooky Chase Orchestra. Dooky and Leah’s union was blessed with four children, Emily, Stella, Edgar “Dooky” III, and Leah. The Chase home was full of fun and excitement. Always finding reasons to celebrate with family and friends. One of their favorite family outings was going to the movies, and when the theater ushers would see them coming, they would excitedly proclaim“Here comes the Chases.” Signaling to the staff to get the Hot Dogs and Hot Tamales ready. Leah was an exceptional mother. Proudly sewing beautiful dresses for her daughters and costumes for her family for Halloween and Mardi Gras. She was President of the PTA, Girl Scout Leader, and Chair of the Parish and School Fundraisers. Leah’s Lemon Meringue pies were always sure to sell.
Leah and Dooky eventually took over the family po’boy and lottery shop that Dooky’s parents started in 1941, which by then had become a sit-down restaurant and a favorite local gathering place. Together they transformed the restaurant into a fine dining establishment that would become a safe haven during the Civil Rights Movement.
In a town deeply divided by segregation, Dooky Chase’s Restaurant was one of the only public places in New Orleans where mixed race groups could meet to discuss strategy for the local Civil Rights Movement. Although such gatherings were illegal through most of the 1960s, Dooky Chase’s was so popular it would have caused a public uproar if local law enforcement had interrupted the meetings. Black voter registration campaign organizers, the NAACP, Freedom Riders and countless others often found a home at Dooky Chase’s, and Leah cooked for them all.
Known as the “Queen of Creole Cuisine,” Leah Chase has fed Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Quincy Jones, Jesse Jackson, Duke Ellington, Thurgood Marshall, James Baldwin, Ray Charles, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the late Ermest Gaines, Boris Kodjoe and Nicole Ari Parker, Keith David, Solange Knowles and countless others. Leah served as the inspiration for Princess Tiana in Disney’s Princess and the Frog.
Leah was a major supporter and unwavering advocate of cultural and visual arts. Her collection was at one time considered New Orleans’ best collection of African American art. Leah served on the board of the New Orleans Museum of Art and even testified before Congress to lobby for greater funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. She participated in countless political campaigns and has used her culinary talents and celebrity to raise money for a myriad of charities and services. Her cookbooks, including The Dooky Chase Cookbook, And Still I Cook, and Leah Chase: Listen, I Say Like This, are popular and have received great praise among her most famous colleagues.
For over seventy years Dooky, Jr. and Leah worked tenaciously to uplift their family and community as best they could through their faith, successful management of their Restaurant, active involvement in social justice activities that fostered civil liberties and full inclusion of all, and support of the creative and culinary arts.Leah was a proud entrepreneur, a believer in the Spirit of New Orleans and the good will of all people, and an extraordinary woman of faith.
Leah was a strong and selfless matriarch, her home was the restaurant and her table was never large enough for all those she wanted to serve. 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. She saw her role, and that of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, as a vehicle to serve for social change during a difficult time in our country’s history. Throughout her tenure, Leah treasured all of her customers and was honored to have the privilege to meet and serve them.
Leah received many awards, including multiple awards from the NAACP, the New Orleans Times- Picayune 1997 Loving Cup, the Weiss Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and the Outstanding Woman Award from the National Council of Negro Women. She was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America in 2010. The National Restaurant Association honored Chef Chase in 2012 with the Faces of Diversity American Dream Award. Leah was a member of the Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRōna Hall of Fame). She was honored with a lifetime achievement award from the Southern Foodways Alliance in 2000. Leah received honorary degrees from Tulane University, Dillard University, Our Lady of Holy Cross College, Madonna College, Loyola University New Orleans, and Johnson & Wales University. The Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana named a permanent gallery in Leah’s honor in 2009. In 2015, the National Basketball Retired Players Association honored Leah with the inaugural Darryl Dawkins Big Heart Award. Leah received the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award from the James Beard Foundation. On June 4, 2019 Leah received the Lifetime Achievement award from the National Black Chef Association. She served on many boards, including the Arts Council of New Orleans, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Louisiana Children’s Museum, and the Urban League. She was a member of the Women of The Storm and the International Women’s Forum.
Many were attracted to her warmth and mastery of culinary arts. Ray Charles sang about her, and National and International Presidents sought her out, but in all her ability to excite the palates of leaders she remained steadfast in her ministry to all.