Chef and civil rights figure Leah Chase dead at 96

Leah Chase

Leah Chase

In a statement, Chase's family said their matriarch, an "unwavering advocate for civil liberties" and firm "believer in the Spirit of New Orleans" died surrounded by her close-knit family. If it was in China, she couldn't really help you.

Many said Chase's impact extended beyond the kitchen. I can give you some stewed chicken.

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) greets Chef Leah Chase with her father and former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu during a "Women with Mary" campaign event in New Orleans, Louisiana.

"Her daily joy was not simply cooking, but preparing meals to bring people together", the family's statement read. "One of her most prized contributions was advocating for the Civil Rights Movement through feeding those on the front lines of the struggle for human dignity", her family said.

Chase shepherded Dooky Chase's Restaurant from a sandwich shop that catered to patrons buying lottery tickets to the first fine-dining, white-tablecloth restaurant for African Americans in the city, the AP reports.

Known as the Queen of Creole, Chase - who died on Saturday aged 96 - fed Martin Luther King as he organised sit-ins with other civil rights activists. She saw her role and that of Dooky Chase's Restaurant to serve as a vehicle for social change during a hard time in our country's history.

"I love people and I love serving people". Because sometimes people will come in and they're exhausted.

"Food builds bridges", she liked to say. Accomplished chefs shared their gratitude for the chance to cook and eat with her, while others commented on her ability to "heal" others through her bowls of gumbo.

Chase visited the restaurant and supervised the kitchen well into her 90s.

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"I said well why we can't have that for our people? A space where people can dress nice and feel comfortable sitting down, taking your time". "So I started trying to do different things".

"At a time when there were no Black-owned banks in the region, Chase's allowed workers to cash their checks", ESSENCE reported in a profile of the restaurant.

"So if you can feed them, it makes them happy - and that's your part in helping them up". She said, "See blacks had nothing, nothing at all". That was the place they could eat, and it was the place they did eat.

Chase never boasted about her works, saying simply that she did what she thought she had to do. When the waters eventually receded, mold was everywhere.

Activists had a safe haven at Chase's restaurant.

Although Chase was in her 80s and Dooky was in his late 70s, the couple spent months living in a rescue trailer next to the restaurant while they rebuilt it.

She and her husband had been married for seven decades when he died in 2016. She graduated from high school at 16 and later took a job at a French Quarter restaurant.

And thus she transformed not only New Orleans cuisine, but also its political and social life with a smile as radiant as her bread pudding and with a sense of humor as spicy as her gumbo - which she once protected with a slap on the hand when Barack Obama tried to add Tabasco sauce without tasting it first.

"I want to do better", she said.

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