Iconic chef, civil rights leader, and co-owner of the legendary New Orleans eatery Dooky Chase’s Restaurant in New Orleans died Saturday at age 96, according to her family.
“Her daily joy was not simply cooking, but preparing meals to bring people together,” her family said in a written statement. “One of her most prized contributions was advocating for the Civil Rights Movement through feeding those on the front lines of the struggle for human dignity. She saw her role and that of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant to serve as a vehicle for social change during a difficult time in our country’s history.”
After marrying jazz musician Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr. in 1946, the couple took over her in-laws’ then-sandwich shop in the predominantly black neighborhood of Treme. From there, they transformed the shop into a sit-down Creole restaurant and African American art gallery, a rarity at the time.
Chase spent over 70 years building and maintaining Dooky Chase’s Restaurant as the executive chef and co-owner, earning her the moniker “Queen of Creole Cuisine.” She was credited with being one of the catalysts in ending segregation in New Orleans.
The restaurant was more than an eatery. The local NAACP held meetings there, and it was used to register black people to vote. From the Freedom Riders to presidents, celebrities, and other civil rights activists, Chase’s restaurant has broken barriers and fed millions in the process.
“Food builds big bridges,” Chase said told The Advocate in 2018. “If you can eat with someone, you can learn from them, and when you learn from someone, you can make big changes. We changed the course of America in this restaurant over bowls of gumbo. We can talk to each other and relate to each other when we eat together.”
May she rest in peace.