NEW ORLEANS — Leah Chase was known for many things. She served two U.S. presidents. She was a Civil Rights era landmark. But for people around the globe, she was known for having a warm smile and a hug ready at all times.
Chase, 96, died Saturday night according to a statement released by her family. People from around the world took to social media to share stories of their interactions with her and what she meant to them personally and the community she worked in.
Chase's cooking is a staple in many households throughout New Orleans as a prime example of Cajun cooking.
But for many she was simply remembered as a larger than life figure, and her absence is a hole in the city.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell and other city officials called Chase an icon, and celebrated her life and accomplishments.
New Orleans City Councilman Jay Banks released a statement about the passing of the legendary cook.
Orleans is truly a mythical place. In most places, giants exist only in myths. In New Orleans, giants walk amongst us everyday.
Leah Chase was a giant. Her culinary talents were phenomenal but that is not what made her special, it was her love for people. My motto is, "God gave us all unique talents, whatever your talent is, use it to help somebody." Mrs. Chase lived that every day.
New Orleans was forever bettered by her and extremely blessed to have been able to call her ours.
State leaders like U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy and U.S. representative Steve Scalise also gave his condolences.
"She was much more than a famed restauranteur—with a good bowl of gumbo and that welcoming smile, she taught us all how to be better people while confronting the challenges of our times from civil rights activist all the way to an inspiration during the rebuilding of New Orleans after Katrina," Scalise said on Facebook.
Chefs around the world mourned the loss of one of their own, who had served presidents and civil rights leaders and countless others over the course of her long career in restaurateuring.
New Orleans actor Wendell Pierce, known for his roles in HBO shows like The Wire and Treme, called Chase an American icon.
"Chase's determination propelled her from a girl with a small-town Louisiana upbringing to a celebrated chef who wrote cookbooks, appeared on cooking shows and fed civil rights greats such as Thurgood Marshall and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Well into her 90s, Chase could be found every day at the restaurant, using a walker while greeting customers and supervising the kitchen."
Mrs. Chase was much more than a gifted chef, although she would argue that there is no greater calling than feeding people. She spread her message through cookbooks, countless media interviews and television shows. Princess Tiana, the frog who wanted to own a restaurant in the animated Disney feature “The Princess and the Frog,” was based on Mrs. Chase. It was the first African-American princess in a Disney movie.