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Leah "Dooky" Chase

Leah Chase, "the Queen of Creole Cuisine," was born January 6, 1923, in New Orleans, Louisiana, of Catholic Creole parents. She was sent to New Orleans in 1937 to live with her aunt and to attend St. Mary's Academy for high school. Her first job out of school was at the Oriental Laundry in the French Quarter. A week later, Chase was hired by the Colonial Restaurant on Chartres Street. She has been in the restaurant industry ever since.

In 1945, she met and married musician Edgar "Dooky" Chase II, whose parents owned the Dooky Chase Restaurant. At first, Chase spent her time raising her children and sewing, but once the children were old enough to attend school she began to work at the restaurant three days a week. She changed the menu to serve hot meals at lunchtime to black men who were beginning to work in offices. She started out as a hostess, but she was soon redecorating the restaurant and working as chef. Because of Chase, the Dooky Chase Restaurant is known for its good food, antiques and original African American art.

Chase has received many awards both for her culinary genius and her community service including: the coveted New Orleans Times Picayune 1997 Loving Cup Award, the Weiss Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the Torch of Liberty Award, the University of New Orleans Entrepreneurship Award, the Outstanding Woman Award from the National Council of Negro Women, and numerous honors from the NAACP. She serves on many organizational boards including the Arts Council of New Orleans, the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Urban League. Chase is a frequent guest on many of the televised cooking shows and was visiting culinary professor at Nichols State University in 1996. She has four children, sixteen grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Chase passed away on June 1, 2019.

Accession Number

A2002.199

Sex

Female

Interview Date

11/15/2002

Last Name

Chase

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Occupation
Schools

A Whizz Kids Preschool Inc Ii

St. Mary Academy

St. Francis Xavier

First Name

Leah

Birth City, State, Country

New Orleans

HM ID

CHA03

State

Louisiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

Fort Wayne, Indiana

Favorite Quote

Whatever You're Going to Do, You Better Do it and Enjoy Life.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Louisiana

Interview Description
Birth Date

1/6/1923

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New Orleans

Country

USA

Favorite Food

All Food

Death Date

6/1/2019

Short Description

Chef and restaurateur Leah "Dooky" Chase (1923 - 2019) is famous for her Creole-style cooking, and was proprietor of the Dooky Chase Restaurant in New Orleans.

Employment

Colonial Restaurant

Dooky Chase Restaurant

Favorite Color

Green

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Leah Chase's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Leah Chase lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Leah Chase talks about her family's history

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Leah Chase talks about her ancestry

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Leah Chase describes her Creole ancestry and the contributions of Creoles

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Leah Chase talks about Patois

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Leah Chase describes her father, Charles Lange

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Leah Chase talks about her family

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Leah Chase describes how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Leah Chase describes her mother, Hortensia Lange

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Leah Chase describes the sights, smells, and sounds of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Leah Chase talks about her parents' value for education

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Leah Chase talks about her Catholic education

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Leah Chase describes her role models

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Leah Chase describes her childhood personality

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Leah Chase talks about her first jobs after high school

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Leah Chase talks about her husband Dooky Chase and the Sandwich Shop

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Leah Chase describes implementing changes at Dooky Chase's Restaurant, pt.1

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Leah Chase describes implementing changes at Dooky Chase's Restaurant, pt.2

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Leah Chase describes her relationship with her mother-in-law, Emily Chase

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Leah Chase talks about her battle to add art to Dooky Chase's Restaurant

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Leah Chase talks about featuring the art of Jacob Lawrence, Jonathan T. Biggers, Clifton Webb, Lois Mailou Jones, and HistoryMakers Elizabeth Catlett, Jonathan Green, David Driskell, William Pajaud

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Leah Chase describes her food and the chef community in New Orleans

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Leah Chase talks about New Orleans chef Austin Leslie and managing restaurants

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Leah Chase talks about popular menu items and the hours of operation at Dooky Chase's Restaurant

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Leah Chase talks about Dooky Chase's Restaurant as a meeting place for civil rights organizations SNCC and COFO and activists like Oretha Castle Haley, James Baldwin, and Thurgood Marshall

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Leah Chase talks about Dutch Morial, the first black mayor of New Orleans

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Leah Chase describes her hopes and concerns for the black community

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Leah Chase talks about her honors including the NAACP A.P. Tureaud Medal, the Loving Cup, and the Ella Brennan Savoir Faire Award

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Leah Chase reflects upon her family's support and how they view her success

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Leah Chase reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Leah Chase talks about how she would like to be remembered

DASession

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DATape

3$3

DAStory

4$7

DATitle
Leah Chase describes her food and the chef community in New Orleans
Leah Chase talks about Dooky Chase's Restaurant as a meeting place for civil rights organizations SNCC and CORE and activists like Oretha Castle Haley, James Baldwin, and Thurgood Marshall
Transcript
Can you tell me about the food, and what makes the food here so special?$$Well because, because I do most of the food myself. I love it, and I love to--I live and breathe food. I, I like to work with food, and I learned one thing--that you cook what you're all about; I could make any kind of cream sauce you want, any kinda--but is that me? People don't come here for that; they come here for me, for what my culture's all about, like stewed okra, string beans, gumbos, beans and rice if you will, or shrimp creole--that kind of thing; they don't look for all the other trendy things, they come here to get a good meal and a good--and when they tell you, "That's just like my grandma," I love it because I know I've done well; if I can cook as good as your grandmother, I have done well. So I try to do that all the time, and you stretch out and do different things at different times, and try different things, but basically, you stay with what you are, and that's, and that's what it's all about. The people in New Orleans [Louisiana], other restaurant owners in New Orleans have been good to me, and that's one thing you will find in New Orleans that you may not find anywhere else--that chefs kinda work together; they work with you, they--if you ask them--I mean if you go to Emeril [Lagasse]'s and you say, "Well, where can I get this?" He'll say, "Well, you go to Leah for that," or I'll tell you, "You go to Paul Prudhomme for that." Like people come here, "Can you blacken me some fish?" "No. I'm not blackenin' anything; I'm the only black thing in my kitchen, I'm not doin' any blackened fish; that's not what I'm all about; Paul does that, that's his thing, you go to Paul to get that." And that--and that's what you do. And people have been real--the chefs have been extraordinary to me; really, really good to me because I'm not certified, I'm not formally trained like they are, but they include me in everything, and we work together, and I learn from them, and it's fun.$Yeah, okay. And this place has another significance in addition to the food and the ambience; it's been a place where black people have met to plan and develop (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous)--Well, because you see--as I said, we've been here 60--what--62, almost 63 years, and it was one place where people met even in segregation days when it was really illegal for blacks and white to congregate in public together anywhere; that was truly illegal. Well, here, if the politicians had to meet black people, this is where they had to meet 'em unless they would go in somebody's church, but this is where they had to meet them here. A lotta things--people come here and get things started and have meetings and go on because it was--and it still is, they still do that; they still come here. If they wanna meet with people, they come and meet over lunch or dinner or somethin' like that.$$Yeah, we heard a couple of days ago that SNCC used to meet here, and CORE was formed here, I think. CORE was formed right here at Dooky Chase.$$Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, because we had a woman workin' for us--Virgie [Castle], and Virgie was from Tennessee, but her daughter was big in the Civil Rights Movement; they have a street named after her--Oretha Castle Haley, and Oretha was big in the civil rights movement, and Virgie was an exceptional woman; why I say that, because Virgie--Virgie wasn't like me--she wasn't like a Leah, you know, she was supportive of what they were doin'; she didn't understand it, like none of us understood what the heck they're doin'; they in the streets, they paradin' in the streets, they, they sitting down, they're bein' dragged off to jail--you kinda didn't understand why, or you didn't understand was it worth this. But Virgie was always supportive of that, and she lived around the corner; I think they tryin' to make her house a historic space, and they should because everybody was there--James Baldwin--they would go there and then come here to eat. Everybody either slept at Virgie's house--I know took a bath there 'cause when they'd come outta jail I'd say, "Ayyy, go to Virgie's; go take a bath and come back here" (laughter). "You mean you gonna put me out?" I say, "Go take a bath at Virgie's and come back here, and I'll feed you" (laughter). So that was then. But she was very supportive of what her children were doing. As I said, she maybe didn't--she didn't understand, but she wasn't anti-anything, and it was hard for her because police were all around her house all the time; it was just hard, it was really hard for her.$$This is Virgie--what's her last name?$$Castle.$$Castle--Virgie Castle.$$Mm-hmm (ph.). And her daughter was Oretha Castle$$Could you spell that?$$Oretha, O-R-E-T-H-A.$$And Virgie?$$V-I-R-G-I-E.$$And Castle?$$C-A-S-T-L-E. And Oretha married a man name--[Richard] Haley was his last name. What was his first name? I, I just don't remember, but he was another bright man, really brilliant man, and did a lot of work, and was very supportive of his wife in her civil rights actions and what she did. And you know, we used to be--like Thurgood Marshall would come through here and he was workin' with the NAACP; in my age, that's what people were doing; we gonna work in the system, we gonna work this way with the NA--but you realize that that was so slow; we would still be today tryin' to get it done. Sometimes you have to take drastic moves, just go at it, and that's what those young people did--they just took those drastic moves and run it. Sometimes it was wrong moves, but that's okay; you, you had to get it done in some ways, and they were able to get it done--that we would've not been able to get it done workin' the slow system we were workin' at, you know? It was not--you know, they were not gonna--we were not gonna make anybody understand where we were coming from. Now, I think we could go a different route; I think the job of the NAACP now--I think it's a pity we still need it; it's just a pity that we still need the NAACP, Urban League and all those kinds of organizations. But now, it should be an educational thing--teach people how to vote, how to vote for the right people, how to vote not necessarily for your friend, but for the man who's gonna move everything a step higher, for the man who's gonna move the country, for the man who's gonna move your city and involve you and involve everybody, and that, that's their job today. I think it should be a lot on education and how we ought to go about thing.