Legendary New Orleans Chef Leah Chase Dies at 96

The Dooky Chase's Restaurant matriarch fed civil rights leaders, politicians, and her community since 1941.

Leah Chase of Dooky Chase
Photo: Ray Tamarra/Getty Images

On Saturday, June 1, the food world lost one of its brightest figures. Leah Chase, the powerhouse behind New Orleans' historic Dooky Chase's Restaurant, died at 96. Beyond her role as executive chef, co-owner, and "Queen of Creole Cuisine," Chase was an activist who hosted and served world-class gumbo to civil rights leaders, black voter registration organizers, and the NAACP, as well as politicians, musicians, actors, and the countless locals who loved her.

Chase's family announced the news of Chase's death on Saturday. "She was a major supporter of cultural and visual arts and an unwavering advocate for civil liberties and full inclusion of all," read the statement. "She was a proud entrepreneur, a believer in the spirit of New Orleans and the goodwill of all people, and a woman of extraordinary faith. Mrs. Chase was a strong and selfless matriarch. 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 in the front lines for human dignity. She saw her role and that of Dooky Chase's restaurant to serve as a vehicle for social change and during a difficult time in our country's history."

Indeed, Chase's impact continues to reverberate within the culinary community.

"Leah Chase has been in business since 1946. She's my hero," said Marcus Samuelsson in a recent conversation. "She had to break the law to create a diverse dining room. That says everything. She never moved."

In 2016, Chase was awarded the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award for her decades-long contributions to her community and the country at large. Last year, we named Dooky Chase's Restaurant as one of the 40 most influential restaurants in the country.

"I don't care if you're the pope or the president, you have to eat. And I can cook for you," Chase said in an interview with the James Beard Foundation. "All I do is try to make people happy through food."

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