Backtalk with Leah Chase

'Queen of Creole Cuisine' discusses importance of rebuilding

What life philosophy or principles have helped to shape your outlook both personally and professionally?

My father taught us the basics of living. He used to tell us in the mornings when you get up, to do three things every day: pray, work, and do for others. I found him to be very right. Just do [those three things] and God will take care of you. You’re supposed to take care of one another; you’re supposed to do for others. And that’s all I do—and work. But I work because I love to work. I’m healthy and I like what I’m doing.

You have an equal passion for food and art. How do they relate and benefit the masses?

To me, the two go together. Art has to talk to you. Art doesn’t have to match the sofa, but it sure can match the food. I put [art] in my restaurant because in the African American community, I felt I needed to do that. I needed to educate my people every way I could. I learned about it late in life because up until the 1960s in New Orleans, we weren’t allowed in the museum. The museum was not for black people at all. But when you get there and see the beauty, you don’t have to understand art at all; it just makes you feel warm and good. In my place, I put it on my wall because I’m across the street from a housing project and kids run in the restaurant. They would at least see something and would want to go [to the museum]. And the people in the project have always been a part of me, they helped me.

Tennille Robinson contributed to this story.

This story originally appeared in the April 2009 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.

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