Black History Month Spotlight: Chef Leah Chase
Black History Month gives us an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the achievements of Black Americans from all segments of society and culture – entertainment, science, art, education, music … and culinary.
Today, we honor a legendary civil rights icon and the Queen of Creole Cuisine, Chef Leah Chase.
Leah Chase was born in Madisonville, Louisiana, in 1923. Her hometown schools taught only white students past the 6th grade, so she was sent to live with an aunt in New Orleans to complete her schooling. At 18, Chase took a job at a restaurant in the French Quarter, and it was there that she developed her love of cooking and an affection for fine dining. In 1945, she met jazz trumpeter and bandleader Edgar “Dooky” Chase, Jr. They were married, and when their four children were old enough, Chase and Dooky took over his parents’ sandwich shop in the Treme, the oldest African American neighborhood in the country, and turned Dooky Chase’s into an elegant restaurant that ensured their Black clientele would enjoy as fine a restaurant experience as white customers of upscale restaurants on the other side of town.
Chase believed food brought people together and that her restaurant could be a vehicle for social change. By the 1960s when the civil rights movement was building momentum, activists gathered at Dooky Chase’s – one of the only public places where it was safe for Black and white customers to mix – to discuss strategy. Chase fed Freedom Riders, politicians, activists, and organizers meals that reflected the city's Creole heritage and Spanish, French, and African culinary influences – what would later come to be known as her signature Creole cuisine.
Chef Chase died in 2019, but her legacy lives on at Dooky Chase’s, in Disney movies (!), and among Black chefs everywhere who know the revolution must be fed.
Duck, Andouille Sausage, Crawfish Gumbo
A classic Louisiana-staple that honors Chef Leah Chase.
Serves 24 -- be prepared for leftovers or like Chef Leah, serving a whole party!
|1 large onion, diced|
|6 stalks celery, diced|
|2 red bell peppers, diced|
|2 green peppers, diced|
|6 garlic cloves, minced|
|2 lbs okra, sliced|
|3 tbsp. olive oil|
|1 gallon water|
|3/12 chicken base|
|2 lbs duck breast, fat scored|
|1 lb Andouille sausage, diced|
|1 lb crawfish tail meat, cooked and deshelled|
|2 tbsp. Cajun spice blend|
|1 tbsp. smoked paprika|
|1 bay leaf|
|8 oz butter, melted|
|8 oz. all-purpose flour|
- In a heavy sauce pot, melt the butter and mix in the flour to make a roux. Slowly cook roux, stirring often until light brown. Remove from heat and reserve.
- In a large pot, heat the oil. Add duck, fat side down, and cook until browned (about 5 minutes). Remove and add the Andouille sausage, cooking until browned (about 5 more minutes). When the duck is cooled, dice and reserve.
- Add in the vegetables, Cajun spice, and smoked paprika. Add in the reserved roux and stir together to combine.
- Add the water, chicken base, bay leaf, and thyme. Simmer for 30 minutes.
- Add the duck meat, sausage, and okra back into the pot -- simmer for 30 minutes. Add crawfish.
- Skim off excess fat and serve.
Interested in reading more about FLIK's celebration of Black History Month? Check out related posts here:
- A Path Forward
- FLIK x Black History Month: On Rice & Roots
- Black History Month Spotlight: Chef Hercules Posey
- How Black Chefs Shaped American Cuisine
- Dooky Chase’s Restaurant
- Leah Chase, 96, Creole Chef Who Fed Presidents and Freedom Riders, Dies, The New York Times
- The Woman Behind The Princess and the Frog's Tiana, Oprah.com
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