“In my dining room, we changed the course of America over a bowl of gumbo and some fried chicken,” Leah Chase, the nation's premiere Creole chef, would often say.
Leah Chase, who passed away this week at the age of 96, spent seven decades serving her signature gumbo and hospitality to everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to James Baldwin to Barack Obama at Dooky Chase, her legendary New Orleans restaurant.
During the civil rights movement, it was a place where white and black people came together, where activists planned protests and where the police entered but did not disturb — and it continues to operate in the same spirit today.
A few years ago, I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Ms. Chase in New Orleans on the TEDWomen stage. She shared stories from her kitchen and her philosophy of life: “You cannot sit down. You have to keep going, keep trying to do a little bit every day. Every day, you do a little bit, try to make it better. And that's been my whole life.”
In her lifetime, she championed so many causes, becoming a force in the civil rights struggle and local and national politics. Ms. Chase was also “always a champion of women,” as New York Times writer Kim Severson writes in her obituary, “especially young women coming up in the kitchens of America’s restaurants.”
“You don't know what it does for me to see women in the position that you're in today,” she told me. “I never thought I'd see that. I never thought I'd see women be able to take places and positions that we have today. It is just a powerful thing.”
”When I meet women on the move, it uplifts me.”
— Leah Chase
I last saw her on the move, in her kitchen at her restaurant, cooking lunch for a full house. I will treasure her and that memory. Rest in peace, Ms. Chase.