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Civil Rights Icon and Queen of Creole Cuisine Leah Chase Dies at 96

Her impact extends far beyond food

New Orleans icon Leah Chase on an episode of Bravo’s ‘Top Chef’ 
David Moir/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Leah Chase, the legendary civil rights pioneer, chef, and restaurateur whose iconic Treme restaurant was one of the first African-American fine dining restaurants in the country, died on Saturday, June 1, at the age of 96, as reported by Nola.com and the Advocate.

Leah Lange Chase, born in Madisonville, Louisiana on January 6, 1923, came to be known as the Queen of Creole cooking in her decades serving gumbo z’herbes, fried chicken, and jambalaya at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant. After marrying Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr. in 1946, Chase turned the family’s Treme sandwich shop (named for her husband’s father) into one of America’s most significant landmarks for Creole dining and the Civil Rights movement.

Chase provided an upscale dining experience for black New Orleanians at a time when none existed, and broke the city’s segregation laws by allowing black and white activists to meet in the dining room, helping the local civil rights movement to flourish in a safe place. Dooky Chase’s has since fed activists, politicians, presidents, and celebrities.

Chase herself ascended to a nationally-recognized cultural figure over the years, serving as the inspiration for the Disney princess Tiana, appearing in Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” music video, and in 2016 receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the James Beard Foundation. Those mourning the loss of Mrs. Chase on social media included the food world and beyond.

The Advocate reports that the Chase family will open Dooky Chase’s on Tuesday, June 4, at 11 a.m. and resume normal hours from there; lunch Tuesday through Friday and dinner on Friday.

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