Iconic New Orleans chef Leah Chase — who served her authentic Creole cuisine to civil rights activists Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King Jr. — has died, her family announced late Saturday.
She was 96.
“The Chase family is heartbroken to share the news that our Mother, Grandmother and Great Grandmother, Leah Chase, passed away surrounded by her family on [Saturday],” the family said in a statement.
“Her daily joy was not simply cooking, but preparing meals to bring people together,” the family’s statement read. “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.”
The famed cook married entrepreneur Dooky Chase in 1946 — and turned his family’s New Orlean’s restaurant from a sandwich shop to fine-dining eatery frequented by white and black civil rights activists who strategized about voter registration drives or legal cases.
She also sent meals to jailed civil rights activists.
“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 said in a 2015 interview.
Chase remained active at the restaurant into her 90’s, maneuvering with a walker to greet customers and oversee the kitchen.
Dooky Chase’s has been open since 1941 — with the exception of a brief closure following devastating damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The legendary restaurant was covered in 5 feet of water, but Chase and her husband rebuilt it while living in a FEMA trailer next door.
Author: Kenneth Garger