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Louisiana Eats: Celebrating Leah Chase's Centennial

Poppy Tooker and Leah Chase
Louisiana Eats!
Louisiana Eats!
Poppy Tooker and Leah Chase

Twelfth Night 2023 marks 100 years since the birth of the late New Orleans icon, Leah Chase. The culinary legend, who passed away in 2019 at the age of 96, was the undisputed Queen of Creole cooking and a civil rights activist who changed lives over a bowl of gumbo. On this week's show, we spend the hour honoring Leah's talent, achievements, and lasting legacy.

We begin with one of our favorite Louisiana Eats moments: a special day we spent with Leah eleven years ago, when then-Mayor Mitch Landrieu kicked off the official start of the 2012 Carnival season at Gallier Hall with king cake and a surprise for Leah on her 89th birthday.

From there, we look back on Leah's early life in Madisonville, Louisiana. Leah describes her earliest days growing up on a strawberry farm, and the lessons she learned that shaped the legend she would become. We continue with an oral history from NOLA Life Stories, in which Leah recounts her first experiences working in a café in the French Quarter, as told to Mark Cave of the Historic New Orleans Collection.

Next, we arrive at a turning point in Leah's life — the moment she met big band leader Edgar "Dooky" Chase, Jr. Following their marriage, Leah went to work at Dooky's, her in-laws' simple sandwich shop in the Treme. As she began to serve Creole classics like gumbo and Chicken Clemenceau on fine linen, Leah elevated the dining culture for everyone. Leah tells us about her famous Gumbo z'Herbes, a dish she served at her restaurant every Holy Thursday for over 60 years.

We also chronicle how Leah rebuilt Dooky Chase's after Hurricane Katrina. Eleven years after the storm, Leah experienced two other monumental life events — the first was her 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award from the James Beard Foundation. Months later, Leah's husband and partner Edgar "Dooky" Chase — the man who played a key role in her success — passed away at the age of 88. In this final segment, Leah reflects on their relationship and shares her thoughts on death and living a fulfilling life.

For more of all things Louisiana Eats, be sure to visit us at PoppyTooker.com.

Poppy is the host and executive producer of the weekly show, Louisiana Eats! Food personality, culinary teacher and author, Poppy Tooker is passionate about food and the people who bring it to the table.