Leah Chase: The Foundation

In her long and extraordinary career, Leah Chase has racked up many of the honors that chefs and restaurateurs covet from the culinary world. But the accolades have reached much farther than that, reflecting her contributions to civil rights, education, art and community-building.

Now, a new charitable foundation has been established to continue her legacy. The Edgar “Dooky” Jr. & Leah Chase Family Foundation got its start early this year with fundraisers organized around the chef’s 90th birthday, which included a series of luncheons at her Dooky Chase Restaurant and a gala at the Hyatt Regency prepared by a slate of celebrity chefs.

“Celebrating her birthday with this kind of revelry would not go over well with my grandmother if it weren’t designed to give back to the community,” said family member Tracie Griffin. “That’s why (the events were) the perfect moment to launch the foundation to continue the kindness, compassion and support that have surrounded my grandmother throughout her career.”

The foundation will support causes ranging from social justice and inclusion to fine art and the culinary arts.

Chase was born in Madisonville in 1923 and moved to New Orleans to attend high school. She later married Edgar “Dooky” Jr. and eventually took charge of the family restaurant her in-laws originally established on Orleans Avenue. As the civil rights movement began revving up, it became a meeting place for community organizers and a safe haven for people from the white and black communities to convene and plan. Chase also emerged as a patron of the arts and turned her restaurant walls into a veritable gallery of contemporary African-American art.

“The average restaurant critic is misplaced here,” Leah Chase’s biographer, Carol Allen, wrote about the restaurant in her 2002 book Listen, I Say Like This. “To effectively critique the Dooky Chase Restaurant, one should know about food, history, human relationships, formal and informal politics, art, good manners and social justice, just for starters.”

With their new foundation, the Chase family, left, is helping encourage those cornerstones of their heritage for a long time to come.

For more on the foundation, see DookyAndLeah ChaseFoundation.org.

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