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Leah’s Legacy: Teaching the Nation About the Queen of Creole Cuisine

Leah’s Legacy: Teaching the Nation About the Queen of Creole Cuisine

by Sarah Spencer

HONORING AND PRESERVING a legacy as impressive as Leah Chase’s, the “Queen of Creole Cuisine,” is a daunting task. But her grandchildren and great-grandchildren have been doing just that. Now a television show, “The Dooky Chase Kitchen: Leah’s Legacy,” soon to be aired on PBS’s WYES-TV,captures it all. A long-time executive chef at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, established in 1941, Leah changed how food is celebrated in New Orleans. I had the great pleasure of visiting the set one day and sampling four amazing dishes crafted by these remarkable chefs.

Producer Terri Landry and Executive Producer Jim Moriarty have collaborated on over 16 food-based shows in the past, and their experience shows. Filmed on location in Dooky Chase’s kitchen, WYES had a beautifully efficient set-up, with four cameras to capture many visual angles of the chefs and the food. They also employed an editing station, a monitor to ensure every shot had perfect visual and audio clarity, and a room set up for glamour shots of the food. The show was filmed on Sundays and Mondays when the restaurant is closed. In order to be fair to their staff, the chefs completed all of the prep work and clean-up themselves, allowing everyone else to enjoy their days off.

“The Dooky Chase Kitchen: Leah’s Legacy” will run 26 episodes, each 30 minutes in length. Leah always believed that a good meal should be enjoyed slowly, not rushed, which was the theme of Episode 18, “Creole Feast,” the one I got to see being filmed. Chefs Edgar “Dook” Chase, IV, Leah’s grandson, and Zoe Chase, her greatgranddaughter, were preparing the dishes for this episode, but they also often feature her niece and chef, Cleo Robinson, and her granddaughter, Eve Marie Haydel, as the cocktail expert. Chase Kamata, another one of Leah’s granddaughters, narrates the series.

Dook, who learned to cook at his grandmother’s side, originally was an accountant, but found he couldn’t stay away from the kitchen . He is the third executive chef in the restaurant’s long history, preceded only by his grandmother and great-grandmother. He attended a six-month intensive culinary education at Cordon Bleu in Paris, where other students joked that he probably already knew everything since having learned from Leah. Zoe is the newest member of the team, getting her start at the restaurant in February, 2022, after attending the New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute (NOCHI). She laughingly marvels at having gone directly from a culinary school student to a nationally featured television chef in such a short period of time.

Photo: Cheryl Gerber “The Dooky Chase Kitchen: Leah’s Legacy” is set to premiere in the spring of 2023, through America Public Television to public television stations nationwide.

Since the theme of this episode was Leah’s love of long meals with many courses, Dook and Zoe prepared four dishes. (Most of the episodes will feature three dishes, such as Creole gumbo, barbecue shrimp, and chocolate mousse with citrus, often with an accompanying cocktail). Gracing the stage for this episode are jambalaya, corn maque choux, redfish courtbouillon, and veal piccata. After making each dish, the production team brought them out to a dining room that had been converted into a photography studio to take professional pictures. Then, as a perk of the job, we got to enjoy all of the dishes prepared that day! Every dish was delicious, and Dook and Zoe were very clear and thorough when demonstrating their preparation.

Leah’s grandson, Edgar “Dook” Chase, IV

As an additional delight, Eve Marie, the beverage manager, was preparing to film her segment on craft cocktails. Many of these are replicas of the original recipe, but several have a modern twist. There are also, of course, new creations. In addition to being a cocktail enthusiast, which she learned from her grandfather, Eve Marie is also a financial analyst for a media broadcast company.

One of the cocktails we were able to sample was a strawberry mint tea, using tea infused with mint grown in-house. It was garnished with mint and lemon, which was how Leah always dressed her tea. The strawberry is a nod to Leah growing up in Madisonville, Louisiana where she worked in the strawberry fields, and to the strawberry wine her father made. The bar walls are a striking green because it was Leah’s favorite color. Those green walls are adorned with art and jazz memorabilia to honor Leah’s grandfather’s music-filled life. Eve Marie also shared with us a history of the restaurant and the bar as she stirred our beverages, but you’ll have to tune in to find out all the details on that. I also was able to talk to Dook and Zoe after they had finished preparing all of the delicious dishes. Everyone loves what they do. They also love and respect the Chase family history. As Zoe puts it, and Dook passionately agrees, “It’s such an honor to be able to showcase Leah’s story through food and share her talents with the world. It’s an honor to help her legacy live on.”

Though I didn’t meet her on set that day, Cleo, Leah’s niece, will be featured in several episodes. Cleo joined the restaurant in 1980, initially working the cash register. However, as a natural cook, she joined her aunt in the kitchen, becoming an integral part of the team and working side-by-side with her until Leah’s death in 2019.

Chase, the narrator, has toured the world as a singer and musical theater actress, performing in such renowned places as the Sydney Opera House. She is also a visual artist, and her artwork can be found gracing the walls of her family’s restaurant, the New Orleans airport, and many private collections. As the daughter of Leah’s youngest daughter, who was also a jazz musician, Chase’s creativity and artistic style encapsulate her culturally rich upbringing and the whimsical spirit of New Orleans.

Leah Chase’s niece, Cleo Robinson.

Dooky Chase’s Restaurant was a popular spot for musicians, artists, and Civil Rights activists in its early history. The hallways, dining rooms, and bar are filled with artwork from local artists. The room in which the production team took the professional photos of the finished food features a grand piano. Dooky Chase, Jr., Leah’s husband, was in a jazz band when he and Leah met. In addition, the restaurant has hosted many politicians, a theme that will be explored in greater detail in the series.

See Also

The Dooky Chase Kitchen: Leah’s Legacy is set to premiere in the spring of 2023, through America Public Television and be released to public television stations nationwide. With 26 episodes and countless examples of the best of Creole cuisine, the legacy of the Queen of Creole Cuisine is beautifully honored by her incredibly talented family. This show will definitely be a pleasure to watch!




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