The Queen of Creole Cuisine: Louisiana’s Leah Chase

Louisiana legend Leah Chase offers a taste of her state.
Leah Chase, executive chef at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant
Our Local Expert: Leah Chase, executive chef
at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant

Dooky Chase’s Restaurant

At ninety-six, Chase has served her famous gumbo to everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to Barack Obama. Her New Orleans restaurant was once a meeting place for civil rights freedom fighters, and her life inspired the character Tiana in Disney’s The Princess and the Frog.

You’re known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine, so tell us: What’s the difference between Creole and Cajun cooking?
Cajuns cook a little more country-style. For some reason, Creole people consider themselves a little more sophisticated than the Cajuns. Why, I’ll never know. Anyway, a Cajun can take an old rooster and do this and that with it. But Creoles would never work with an old rooster. They need a nice, fat hen.

Gumbo at Dooky Chase's
The gumbo at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant is a spicy mix of seafood, meats, and spices.

New Orleans CVB

What should people order at Dooky Chase’s?
A cup of gumbo; you don’t start anything in this restaurant without it. We Creoles of color like to stuff things. This afternoon, I’m going to stuff a beef brisket with crawfish dressing, then I’ll take the crawfish heads and roll okra around them. That is so good.

You’ve served a host of notable figures; which dishes have been their favorites?
Lena Horne liked her fried chicken. Quincy Jones, I ship him gumbo all the time. I ship Bill Cosby his fried chicken thighs and his crawfish etouffee.

Where do you buy your ingredients?
Rouses Supermarket always has good, fresh vegetables, and they treat customers well. I like to shop around because I get to meet people, and there’s nothing in this world, honey, better than meeting people.

Besides Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, what’s your favorite place to eat?
There’s a prominent New Orleans restaurant called R’evolution, co-owned by a Cajun named John Folse. He’ll make gumbo and put stuffed quail in it. There’s an elegant feeling there, but you get a taste of that real down-home thing.

New Orleans Museum of Art
The New Orleans Museum of Art is considered one of the top museums of its kind in the South.

New Orleans Museum of Art

What are some of your favorite cultural spots?
I’m a museum person, and I like the New Orleans Museum of Art and The National World War II Museum. I’ve started a foundation that supports the arts and social justice—I work hard promoting those things. Elizabeth Catlett was my dearest friend, and I have one of her pieces in my restaurant called Two Generations. You feel the power of this grandmother taking this child to church.

What did you think of The Princess and the Frog’s portrayal of Louisiana?
I thought they did a lovely job. It was about food and people working together. I’m glad they included Cajuns and that they had Tiana working as a waitress just like I did. And she was cute! So that made me happy.

If America is a pot of gumbo, what ingredient is Louisiana?
We’re the thing that makes that pot of gumbo—we’re the roux. Oh, and the good Gulf seafood. The prize part of that pot of gumbo is from Louisiana.

Editor’s note: At the time of publication, Chase was ninety-one. We have since updated the article to reflect her current age.