Thursday, July 2, 2020
By Dave Walker, communication specialist

When she died in June 2019 at age 96, Leah Chase was celebrated as a New Orleans legend, icon, and inspiration. During research for 2009’s animated The Princess and Frog, directors Ron Clements and John Musker called on Chase’s life story and culinary renown—a journey from French Quarter waitress to James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award recipient—as inspiration for the character of Tiana, Disney’s first African American princess.


The Historic New Orleans Collection has many resources for further study of Chase’s life and work, including an oral history conducted by Williams Research Center Senior Curator / Oral Historian Mark Cave. Also invaluable is the Louisiana Eats radio remembrance of Chase by author and host Poppy Tooker. For our #NolaMovieNight screening of The Princess and the Frog, we reached out to Tooker for her fondest Leah Chase memories—and a favorite recipe.

Q: Who was Leah Chase?

A: Whether at the stove, in the dining room, or on the public stage, Leah Chase was one of the most remarkable people to have ever graced the earth.

When did you first meet her?

In the 1980s I was part of a cooking class featuring Leah and Susan Spicer. I was first to cook and I had to make a roux—in front of the queen of Creole cuisine! When I stepped off of the stage, Leah grabbed my arm and said, “You did that exactly right!” giving me an ultimate validation.

Leah Chase is pictured with husband Edgar "Dooky" Chase at the couple's restaurant in the 1980s. (THNOC, gift of Harold F. Baquet and Cheron Brylski, 2016.0172.3.1)

Visitors to her Orleans Avenue landmark ranged from US presidents to everyday people. That attraction was about more than the food. What was it?

At Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, Leah created a place where we could celebrate, mourn, reunite with old friends, and honor deep cultural traditions. When Leah cooked, it tasted like home—it was the taste of New Orleans itself.

What's your favorite Leah Chase memory?

There are too many to pick from, but I’ll always treasure my last visit to her kitchen. For years, Leah held court at a table in the kitchen. It was the ultimate place to sit and visit. She smiled at me and said, “Poppy, I had the craziest dream last night! Dooky came to me and said ‘Leah, take my hand and let’s dance.’ I said ‘You crazy fool, you know these legs of mine don’t work anymore.’ Well Poppy, Dooky took my hand and do you know, I danced with him!” I love to think of my friend Leah dancing with that smiling Mr. Chase.

Poppy Tooker and Leah Chase are pictured at Dooky Chase's Restaurant. (Image courtesy of Poppy Tooker)

What's your favorite Leah Chase recipe, and why?

Clemenceau—either chicken, shrimp, or both! We cooked it together at the reopening of the Saturday Crescent City Farmers Market after Katrina. Leah would say, “This is the perfect dish because you can watch your soaps and just before your husband comes home, you can throw it together and he’ll think you’ve been cooking all day.”

Chicken and Shrimp Clemenceau

Serves 6

3 boneless chicken breasts

2 lbs shrimp, peeled

Oil for frying

2 cups peeled and diced Idaho potato (about 2 medium potatoes)

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1 cup green peas, frozen or canned

1 1/2 sticks of butter

4 - 5 finely minced cloves of garlic

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 tablespoon fresh, chopped flat leaf Italian parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

Fry potatoes in oil until browned or if preferred blanche them in water then brown them in butter and reserve. Cut chicken into strips. Melt 1 stick of butter in a large skillet. Add the chicken and brown lightly, then reserve. Melt an additional 4 tablespoons of butter (if needed) in the same pan and sauté the mushrooms until they release their juices. Add the shrimp and sauté until pink, 2-3 minutes. Lower the heat and add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes. Return the chicken to the pan and add the green peas and potatoes and heat thoroughly. Sprinkle on paprika, parsley and salt and pepper to taste.

Cover image: Dooky Chase Family Portrait; 1983; photograph by Christopher Porché West; The Historic New Orleans Collection, acquisition made possible by John J. Uhl, ©Porché West, 2017.0034.7