New Orleans lost an icon with the passing of chef-restaurateur Leah Chase this weekend. As reported by the Nola.com | Times-Picayune and the Advocate, Chase died on Saturday, June 1, at the age of 96.
In her decades at the helm of her restaurant, Dooky Chase’s, in Treme, Chase was known as the Queen of Creole cooking. The historic restaurant became a hub for the Civil Rights movement. She and her family stood in defiance of the law by allowing both black and white activists in the dining room to meet over dishes like her famous gumbo z’herbes. A statement from Chase’s family notes that “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.”
Few chefs have ascended to the level of cultural recognition earned by Chase. She served presidents and musicians, inspired the Disney princess Tiana, was immortalized in Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” music video, and in 2016 earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the James Beard Foundation.
Since news broke last night, tributes have been pouring in on social media.
Many in New Orleans — including the mayor — noted Chase’s prominence in and profound importance to the city.
Leah Chase was a legend, an icon and an inspiration. It is impossible to overstate what she meant to our City and to our community. At Dooky Chase’s Restaurant: she made creole cuisine the cultural force that it is today. pic.twitter.com/MSFaNdLvsx— Mayor LaToya Cantrell (@mayorcantrell) June 2, 2019
If New Orleans had a Mt. Rushmore, Leah Chase would be on it. https://t.co/rIu6jeN7ZE— Brett Michael (@thecajunboy) June 2, 2019
Leah Chase was much more than a restauranteur or the keeper of secret recipes. To the extent that a single person can become the best representation of a place, Leah Chase didn’t change New Orleans; Leah Chase was New Orleans, at its very best. https://t.co/SxuNZe3DlZ— Lamar White, Jr. (@LamarWhiteJr) June 2, 2019
I know I didn't eat at Dooky Chase enough, and I wonder if such a thing even existed. There is no bigger New Orleans loss than this. https://t.co/kMoFSWRuLh— Brett Martin (@brettmartin) June 2, 2019
Many mourned the passing of one the last remaining keepers of a specific culinary and social history. James Beard Award-winning writer and culinary historian Michael Twitty noted that “the last of a generation is gone” in a moving thread.
She nourished The Civil Rights Revolution. She fed men&women who never came back. She got to see America from Jim Crow to it's death to Katrina to Obama and beyond. What an awesome, incredible enviable journey afforded the absolute Queen of Creole food.— Michael W. Twitty (@KosherSoul) June 2, 2019
I can’t adequately capture my sadness in a tweet and it’s not possible to convey chef Chase’s impact on an entire city in written form. My heart hurts for New Orleans and black ppl everywhere who held her close as a symbol of integrity and courage.— korsha wilson (@korshawilson) June 2, 2019
Other tributes from around the food world highlighted her activism, her journey, and her ability to inspire others.
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Woke up to some pretty heartbreaking news last night. Whenever I thought that I had it tough I remembered that you ran a restaurant as a black woman in the south in the 60s and onwards. That made me keep going. Your words of wisdom are forever inscribed on my mural at the restaurant “everyone can cook if you try, if you put a little love in it” You will be missed immensely, but thank you for showing all of us that it’s possible.
Chef Leah Chase, civil rights activist and legendary 'Queen of Creole Cuisine,' dies at age 96https://t.co/bmRFA3Oayt Thanks to People like her, we become a better Nation! At @WCKitchen we will pay respect to your legacy of Feeding and healing one meal at the time!— José Andrés (@chefjoseandres) June 2, 2019
Leah Chase was a national treasure. Civil rights leader, rebel, chef, activist, leader, icon, incredible human. What a massive loss to the world. Love to her family and to New Orleans. https://t.co/KNB5HwTQcJ— Kat Kinsman (@kittenwithawhip) June 2, 2019
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Funny, wise, determined. Chef Leah Chase gave so much to support women and civil rights during her history-making 96 years on this planet, and her contributions to the city she loved and the preservation of Creole cuisine are immeasurable. What an honor it was to cook in her kitchen, laugh with her, and soak up her spirit. Rest in peace. . . . . #leahchase #dookychase #neworleans #creolecooking #blackchef #womenchefs #civilrights #historymaker
Leah Chase was a leader and an icon, everyone’s grandmother, whose work shaped our culinary landscape. Let’s honor her. https://t.co/dhAPpSfGgf— Jamila Robinson (@JamilaRobinson) June 2, 2019
• Leah Chase, whose restaurant Dooky Chase’s helped change New Orleans, dies at 96 [The Advocate]
• Leah Chase, New Otleans’ matriarch of Creole cuisine, dead at 96 [Nola.com | The Times-Picuyune]