Health Power Salutes Leah Chase, Chef and Proprietor Dooky Chase Restaurant
Born in New Orleans in 1923 of Catholic Creole parents, the award winning Leah Chase is fully occupied as the Chef and Proprietor of the famous Dooky Chase Restaurant in New Orleans. Known as the “Queen of Creole Cuisine”, she was reared in a small town across the lake called Madisonville, Louisiana, and was the oldest of 11 children. In 1937, she was sent to New Orleans to live with her aunt and attend St. Mary’s Academy for high school. Her first job after school was at theOriental Laundry in the French Quarter. One week later, she was hired by the Colonial Restaurant on Chartres Street, and has been in the restaurant industry ever since. Although while growing up she would do anything to keep out of the kitchen, she states that she learned everything she knows about cooking by watching her mother and sisters.
As a child, most of what the family ate came from the rich variety of vegetables her father grew in the family garden. As a result of waiting tables in the French Quarter, she decided she wanted to own and run her own restaurant. I didn’t intend to do any cooking at first, but you see, I had so many ideas in my head about food and what to serve, and I’ve been in the kitchen ever since.
In 1945, she met and married musician Edgar Dooky Chase II, whose parents owned the Dooky Chase Restaurant. At first, Leah Chase spent her time raising her children and sewing, but once they were old enough to attend school, she spent three days a week working at the Dooky Chase Restaurant. She changed the menu, redecorated, and worked as Chef.Because of her, the Dooky Chase Restaurant is known for its good food, antiques and original African-American art. Among the many awards received, for both culinary genius and community service, are: the coveted New Orleans Times Picayune1997 Loving Cup Award, the Weiss Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the University of New Orleans Entrepreneurship Award, and the Outstanding Woman Award from the National Council of Negro Women.
Her creative cuisine and legendary Creole gumbo made Dooky Chase, her family-owned restaurant, into a national treasure. She uses her skill and experience to toss together the cultures of the French, the Spanish, a little American Indian and African into her pot. Says the master chef, “You have to put all your love in that pot”. She thinks her family’s good health resulted from the limited meat in their diet. “We were poor, but my mother never had any sick children because when we were coming up, the beans, cabbage, and greens were the mainstay. We had lots of ’em.” An active community member, she often cooks food for housing units and homeless shelters. Her main advice is not to limit your creativity by following any hard rules. Rules don’t no more make a cook than sermons make a saint, she says.
Health Power Note: The Dooky Chase Cookbook by Leah Chase can be found or ordered in major bookstores. You may find some of her recipes right in Health Power’s Food and Fitness Channel.