Remembering Leah Chase, a true hero of the New Orleans community

Michael Chen, Associate News Editor

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Fearless. Humble. Persistent. Leah Lange Chase has clearly embodied these traits throughout her work in the kitchen and as a civil rights activist. The New Orleans community mourns the loss of a culinary legend and cultural icon who passed away on June 1, 2019.

With her tenacity and her food, Chase was able to uplift the city of New Orleans through its strenuous times over the last six decades. During the Civil Rights Movement, she fed African American activists and provided them a gathering place to discuss civil and economic rights and to strategize protests and movements at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, which she helped develop with her late husband Edgar Dooky Chase Jr. since their marriage in 1946. It was also at Dooky Chase’s where many of those in the black community sought refuge during the era of segregation.

“They called this a safe haven because they knew that nobody would come through that door. We never had an incident inside this restaurant,” Chase said. “It’s a good feeling that I helped create this safe haven. I feel privileged to have been part of them.”

Photo courtesy of Gavin Goins

When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Dooky Chase’s was devastated in the aftermath. Yet, Chase stood strong in the face of disaster. Living in a white trailer across the street, Chase served food while her restaurant was being rebuilt. It is through these instances that Chase was able to exemplify the acceptance and determination that the New Orleans community is renowned for.

Despite these remarkable achievements, Chase was truly the happiest in her kitchen. Undeterred by her age, Chase continued to cook every day and loved to meet those who stopped by her kitchen to greet her. Her love for everyone and bringing them together with her food stemmed from her belief in the goodwill of others.

“People, that’s the most important thing,” Chase said in an interview with The Hullabaloo earlier this year. “That’s what I learned. No matter what you looked like, you were still a human being. Don’t walk on people. People are so important and you can find so many good things about them.”

Despite her fame as the Queen of Creole Cuisine, Chase never strayed from the community which she grew up in. A major supporter of the fine arts, she displayed her extensive collection of African American art across the walls of her restaurant. Along with her husband, she also started The Edgar “Dooky” Jr. & Leah Chase Family Foundation in order to promote the lives of those who were historically disenfranchised and to fight social injustice in the country.

In her role as executive chef at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, Leah Chase brought to New Orleans a safe haven for social change and Creole cuisine. The city has truly lost one of its greatest souls.