“Mrs. Chase fed most of the civil rights movement’s leaders, as well as African-American entertainers who couldn’t eat in any other New Orleans restaurant during the Jim Crow years. President George W. Bush ate there, as did U.S. Sen. Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign, when Mrs. Chase stopped him from adding hot sauce to her gumbo.”
Leah Chase’s Times-Picayune obituary records her contributions to the cuisine, culture, and improvement of New Orleans.
She and her husband, Dooky Chase, created a fine dining restaurant that was to become iconic:
Her clientele included such notable black entertainers as Lena Horne, Count Basie and Sarah Vaughan … The Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., known universally as “Daddy King,” was particularly fond of the spareribs, Mrs. Chase said, and the writer James Baldwin loved her gumbo.
She served on the boards of local museums and foundations, and served her own dishes for fundraisers, refusing payment.
She was also known for her support of the arts:
Mrs. Chase started catering the openings of fledgling artists so they could offer hospitality to people who had come to admire – and, perhaps, buy – their creations. She helped them pay their bills, and she hung their works in the restaurant.
Ray Charles sang about her restaurant in “Early in the Morning,” and she was the inspiration for Tiana in Disney’s The Princess and the Frog.