Chef Leah Chase is credited within the culinary world as bringing Creole cuisine—a blend of African, Spanish, Caribbean, and French influences—to the front burner. For more than 60 years, locals, tourists, and notables alike (including President Barack Obama) have flocked to her New Orleans restaurant, Dooky Chase, to indulge in the signature local fare and catch Chase, 86, who is still a fixture in the kitchen.
Chase has worked diligently to give back to the city of New Orleans and serves on the board of the New Orleans Museum of Art. Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, she helped rebuild a number of restaurants—including her own.
Black Enterprise sat down with the feisty “Queen of Creole Cuisine” to find out how she inspires others to feast on the arts, why the country is starving for more black entrepreneurs, and how she continues to feed her appetite for life after all these years.
President Obama is among those who’ve dined at Dooky Chase. What’s it like to be a part of this historic time now?
Right now, we’ve got something I never thought I would see: a black man in the White House. That’s the best thing that’s ever happened to this country. We look good all over the world now. They look at us in a different view all over the world now. Now, it’s our job as African Americans to do our job, get up, and go. That’s what we have to do to support this man, to make his job what it’s supposed to be. Because any mistake we make, it’s going to fall on him. So, we still have a job to do and sometimes those black men are not going to get there unless we give them the push they need. I don’t think Mr. Obama would be there if Mrs. Obama wasn’t there. They’re supportive of one another. I don’t think it is easy for black men—I just don’t. But they’re working hard and some of them are getting into places, but not enough.
With New Orleans still a work in progress as well as the country in the midst of a recession, what’s it going to take to get things back on track?
We need black entrepreneurs. We need 100 more Earl Graves. We need that. A big city like New Orleans? We used to have a lot of little black-owned places and shops, we don’t have that anymore. I’m almost standing alone with the restaurant, trying to make do, trying to make it big. I want big things for our people. I want everything for our people. And that’s the only way we’re going to move. We are in the political arena, but as they say down home: “That ain’t bringing us no money.” You can put people in the White House, people in governor seats and mayor seats, but unless you have those entrepreneurs, we’re still going to fall behind. They are the ones that push the money up, but we have to be able to put in the work.