Birthday gala honors activist

To celebrate her 90th birthday on Jan. 6, Leah Chase’s family is hosting a two-day event for the New Orleans culinary matriarch known as the “Queen of Creole Cuisine.”

“My mother loves to celebrate her birthday,” Stella Reese, Chase’s daughter and manager of Dooky Chase Restaurant, said in a news release. “With the size of our large family, the celebration usually spans at least a week and is full of dinners and parties. The grandchildren actually felt that inviting the community she loves and serves so passionately was the best way to honor her 90 years.”

Chase was born to Creole parents and raised in Madisonville before moving to New Orleans to attend St. Mary’s Academy when she was 14. Over her lifetime she has received numerous awards for her cooking contributions, as well as her work as a social activist. The family restaurant, renowned for its collection of African-American art, famously served as a central gathering place for civil rights activists and organizers — black and white — during the 1960s. Chase’s father-in-law opened the restaurant in 1941, and Chase and her husband, Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr., took over after they were married in 1946.

Friday, the family will host three lunch seatings at the iconic restaurant on Orleans Avenue in the Treme-Lafitte neighborhood. The menu will feature some of Chase’s favorites, including court bouillon and baked chicken breast with corn bread and oyster stuffing. Both Leah Chase and Edgar “Dooky” Chase will be in the restaurant to share stories and visit with diners.

On Saturday, the “Dinner of a Lifetime” and “90th Birthday Gala” will be held at the Hyatt Regency. Following a cocktail reception, a four-course meal will be prepared by some of her closest chef friends, joined by several celebrity chefs who will create Leah-inspired dishes. Local musicians will also be on hand to entertain.

Reese said the family expects about 2,000 people to attend the two days of celebration.

The money raised during the events will provide the base for the newly established Edgar “Dooky” Jr. and Leah Chase Family Foundation, which will “cultivate and support historically disenfranchised organizations by making significant contributions to education, creative and culinary arts and social justice,” according to the foundation’s website.

“Celebrating her birthday with this kind of revelry would not go over well with my grandmother if it wasn’t designed to give back to the community,” granddaughter Tracie Griffin said in a news release. “That’s why now is the perfect moment to launch the Foundation to continue the kindness, compassion and support that have surrounded my grandmother throughout her career.”

Reese said that Friday’s lunches were all booked with a waiting list, but tickets were still available for the Saturday dinner and gala at $250 per person or $2,500 per table.

For more information visit dookyandleahchasefoundation.org or call (504) 821-0600.