What I Learned from Mom

Notable New Orleans chefs share what their mothers taught them in the kitchen and beyond.

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Leah Chase and Stella Reese

Leah Chase, often referred to as “The Queen of Creole Cuisine,” is chef and owner of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant in New Orleans. She is the recipient of multiple awards honors and degrees and is in the James Beard Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America. Her daughter, Stella Reese works front of house.

“Incorrect or not, I told President George (H. W.) Bush that I admire his wife very much. First of all, because she wears pearls but also for bringing up her sons to do so well.”

When you ask Leah Chase – born in 1923, the eldest of 14 children, mother of four and great-grandmother of 22 – what it takes to be a good mother, you’ll hear some straight talking just as the former president did (above). You will also hear some wise advice: “I tried to raise my children like my mother did. She tried so hard to make sure her children had a better life than she did and there were three words you couldn’t say to her: “can’t,” she’d say, isn’t in the dictionary; “sorry,” because you shouldn’t have done it in the first place; and “tomorrow,” because it never comes.

“Also, even though we were very poor, we always had to do things for others without accepting anything in return and that’s how I brought my children up, which is why we have our foundation.”

Chase thinks that mothers today have it harder than ever: “When we were having babies, they wouldn’t open their eyes for eight days, now they come and they’re talking and reasoning with you like old people before you know it.
“So you have to start teaching them right away. You have 22 years to teach them everything they need for life and by then they need to be able to take care of themselves.” She continues, “And mothers today have to pay so much attention, all the time, where their children are, what they’re doing; and they’re smart enough to know whether you’re paying attention or not.

“So many women have to work today as well, but no matter what you do, even if you’re the First Lady, you’re a mama first.”

Chase says, “Women shouldn’t forget the power they have. Men can’t produce a human being but women can. Being a mother is a powerful thing and a big responsibility but it’s the best job in the world and pays really well.”

Similarities. Stella Reese is Chase’s daughter and her right-hand woman in running her legendary restaurant Dooky Chase’s. Chase says Reese shares her belief in giving back to the community and just being plain, old-fashioned kind. Chase and Reese ask themselves every day what they were able to do for God and other people.

Differences. Chase believes “Stella is an incredibly talented (retired) teacher, far more so than me. And she works too hard, working every day at 90 is OK for me but I want her to enjoy her retirement more.”

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