In Memoriam: Leah Chase

June 5, 2019 - June 30, 2019

Leah Chase (1923–2019), dubbed the “Queen of Creole Cuisine,” was a restauranteur and worldrenowned chef, who championed civil rights. In 1945, after marrying jazz musician Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr., she joined the family restaurant business in New Orleans. Dooky Chase’s Restaurant became a gathering spot for Martin Luther King Jr. and other prominent civil rights activists in the 1960s. “In my dining room, we changed the course of America over a bowl of gumbo and some fried chicken,” Chase recalled. In addition to her belief in food’s ability to bring people together, she was a pious Catholic, feeling that “everything [God] throws at you is testing your strength.” Later in her life, she advocated for the arts, an endeavor she considered an important part of her legacy. The artist Gustave Blache III, who often depicts people at work, documented Chase in the kitchen for a series of portraits.

Woman in a  kitchen cutting squash
Cutting Squash (Leah Chase) by Gustave Blache III / 2010, Oil on panel / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the artist in honor of Mr. Richard C. Colton, Jr.