The legendary queen of New Orleans Creole cuisine has died.
Leah Chase, who introduced her beloved Creole dishes to tourists from around the world, became a Civil Rights icon for refusing to abide by segregation laws, allowing Black and white patrons to dine together inside of her restaurant, Dooky Chase named after her late husband, according to NBC News.
While in New Orleans, civil rights leaders such as Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr., and Ernest “Dutch” Morial, the city’s first Black mayor, would dine at Dooky Chase’s and plan strategic voter registration drives or other impactful ways to challenge segregation laws and bring about change. Chase, 96, was also known to sneak food to some of these same leaders while they were unjustly jailed.
In a statement, Chase’s family said their matriarch, an “unwavering advocate for civil liberties” and firm “believer in the Spirit of New Orleans” died surrounded by her close-knit family.
“Her daily joy was not simply cooking, but preparing meals to bring people together,” the statement read, according to NBC. “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.”
Leah married Dooky Chase in 1946, and helped turn his family restaurant from a casual sandwich like spot into the legendary fine dining restaurant for which it is now known. She simply wanted to offer the same posh service to Black patrons that white restaurant-goers experienced in the French Quarter – complete with fancy tablecloths, silverware and delectable food such as jambalaya and gumbo.
“I said well why we can’t have that for our people? Why we can’t have a nice space?” Leah Chase said in a 2015 interview with The Associated Press. “So I started trying to do different things.”
“I love people and I love serving people. It’s fun for me to serve people. Because sometimes people will come in and they’re tired. And just a little plate of food will make people happy,” she added.
When Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans in 2005, it proved to be a devastating one for Dooky Chase’s. More than 5 feet of water flooded the restaurant and left mold in its wake.
Chase and her husband temporarily relocated to Birmingham but would later return to New Orleans, living out of a FEMA trailer situated next to their restaurant. From there, they rebuilt.
Dooky Chase preceded Leah in death in 2016.