In the early days of local television, African-Americans didn’t have much presence. One of the first on-air black performers at WDSU was cooking show pioneer Lena Richard, who hosted a weekly show that ran from 1947-’49.
Richard was born in New Roads in 1892, but grew up in New Orleans. She started working in the kitchen as a domestic while still a teenager, and was sent by her employers first to a local cooking school, and then to the Fannie Farmer Cooking School in Boston, from where she graduated in 1918. She spent the following years running a catering business, operating several family-run restaurants and cooking at various establishments in the New Orleans area. Her constantly praised cooking skills inspired her to open a cooking school in 1937, and she soon began work on a cookbook.
She privately published her first cookbook in 1938. In ‘40, with the help of food legend James Beard, her New Orleans Cook Book was published by Houghton Mifflin. Richard promoted her cookbook, which showcased local cuisine as well as basic American food, all around New Orleans including at department stores D.H. Holmes and Maison Blanche.
After her cooking show ended, she continued her catering and restaurant businesses, expanding to producing frozen versions of local dishes such as turtle soup, gumbo and grillades, which were distributed nationwide by Bordelon Fine Food.
She died in 1950, leaving her mark as an entrepreneur and businesswoman, playing a large role in the preservation and promotion of 20th-century African-American cooking in New Orleans.