While the passing of legendary chef Leah Chase is a huge blow to the culinary community, many hope her recipes will continue to be passed on to the next generation of chefs.
“It's a hard day, because it's like family,” said New Orleans chef Kevin Belton. “If you paid attention, you could learn so much from her.”
Belton would frequent her restaurant, Dooky Chase’s, as a child. When he got into the profession, Belton said he was glad to be able to cook for one of his icons. He said he learned many lessons from her, but there's one in particular he remembers learning outside of the kitchen.
“About life, and about how to treat people than she did about food. Anybody can cook, but it's how you treat people the rest of the time. And for somebody like her to tell me, “I'm so proud of you, I’m proud of your accomplishments,’ I felt like that 4-year-old kid from when I first remembered her," he said.
Belton isn’t alone: For many she was warm and open, an inviting face in the kitchen. Chase inspired many people in the city of New Orleans, including future restaurateurs like Alvi Mogilles, who owns McHardy’s Chicken and Fixin’ on Broad Street
“Ms Chase was such an icon in this city and people don’t realize the impact she had on so many families," Mogilles said.
She said she always viewed the Queen of Creole Cuisine as her mentor, someone who could make anyone feel comfortable in her restaurant.
"For every award we received, she made certain that she told you, ‘I'm proud, go get it.’ She was the mentor," she said.
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Chase worked at the family's restaurant when she married Edgar "Dooky" Chase Jr. She turned the establishment into a fine dining restaurant for African-Americans in the 1950s and 1960s, something Advocate food writer Ian McNulty said crucial during the era.
"She was truly a leader in a time when it mattered," McNulty said. “Leah Chase was one the those people who blazed a trail for all that came after her.”
The restaurant became a place for Civil Rights leaders to gather, everyone from Martin Luther King Jr to Thurgood Marshall.
"She was a leader in her community at a time where change was everywhere was difficult was vexing, and she was an anchor and a light at the same time," McNulty said.
Chase was a mentor with life lessons that now still be passed on to future chefs.
"It's my responsibility as a chef, as a man, as a person in this industry to look out for other chefs --male, female, doesn't matter the religion, race, whatever, I have a responsibility from those folks who taught me to lift those folks up," Belton said.
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