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Leah Chase

Queen of Creole cuisine

“We changed the world over a bowl of gumbo” is how Chef Leah Chase (1923–2019) recalled the strategy sessions led by Civil Rights leaders at Dooky Chase’s restaurant. Chase's sense of drive compelled her to eschew the factory jobs left to Creole girls for restaurant work in New Orleans’s French Quarter. She transformed Dooky Chase’s, a sandwich shop opened by her plucky mother-in-law in the early 1940s, into a fine-dining establishment with crisp, white tablecloths and signature works by African American artists.

Cutting Squash (Leah Chase)

Gustave Blache III, born 1977
Leah Chase, 06 Jan 1923 - 01 Jun 2019
Exhibition Label
Leah Chase (1923–2019), dubbed the “Queen of Creole Cuisine,” was a restaurateur and world- renowned 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.
Leah Chase (1923–2019), apodada la “reina de la cocina criolla de Luisiana”, fue restauradora y chef de renombre internacional, además de defensora de los derechos civiles. En 1945 se casó con el músico de jazz Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr. y comenzó a trabajar en su restaurante familiar en Nueva Orleans. El restaurante Dooky Chase’s se convirtió en punto de reunión de Martin Luther King Jr. y otros prominentes activistas de los derechos civiles en la década de 1960. “En mi comedor cambiamos el curso de Estados Unidos mientras comíamos gumbo y pollo frito”, recordó Chase. Además de su fe en el poder unificador de la comida, era católica devota; decía que “todo lo que [Dios] pone en tu camino es una prueba de tu fortaleza”. Más tarde fue propulsora de las artes, labor que consideraba parte importante de su legado. El artista Gustave Blache III, quien suele presentar a sus sujetos trabajando, realizó una serie de retratos que documentan a Chase en la cocina.
United States\Louisiana\Orleans\New Orleans
Home Furnishings\Stove
Nature & Environment\Vegetable\Squash
Costume\Headgear\Hat\Cap\Baseball cap
Leah Chase: Female
Leah Chase: Crafts and Trades\Culinary Arts\Chef
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National Portrait Gallery Collection
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the artist in honor of Mr. Richard C. Colton, Jr.
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
Object number
Restrictions & Rights
Usage conditions apply
© Gustave Blache III
Oil on panel
Stretcher: 21.6 x 25.4cm (8 1/2 x 10")
Frame: 37.1 x 43.8 x 3.8cm (14 5/8 x 17 1/4 x 1 1/2")
Record ID
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