Remembering Leah Chase, the "Queen of Creole Cuisine"

Leah Chase, queen of Creole food, dies at 96

The city of New Orleans and the culinary world are remembering legendary chef Leah Chase, who died Saturday at age 96. She was known as the "Queen of Creole Cuisine," and her palace was the famed New Orleans restaurant Dooky Chase's, which she ran for more than seven decades.

"If I wouldn't come in this kitchen every day, I think I would be miserable," she told "CBS This Morning  Saturday" co-host Michelle Miller in 2015.

Chase was a giant in the culinary world whose signature dishes of Louisiana gumbo, southern fried chicken, and shrimp Clemenceau brought her worldwide fame.

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Leah Chase, the 96-year-old chef at famed New Orleans restaurant Dooky Chase's, was a giant in the culinary world. CBS News

But there was so much more than food that made her an American legend. One of her most famous sayings was: "To be a woman, you have to look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man, and work like a dog." It's memorialized on a mural in New Orleans — advice from her mother she says she carried with her throughout her life.

Born in 1923, Chase started out as a waitress in the French Quarter before marrying Edgar "Dooky" Chase Jr., a musician whose parents ran a small sandwich shop. Leah took over, and transformed it into a fine dining restaurant for African Americans in the 1950s.

Miller asked Chase in 2015, "What did this this place mean?"

"This was like a safe haven for all of us," she replied.

During the civil rights era, Chase broke segregation laws by providing a space for both black and white activists to meet.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed Dooky Chase's. "People said, 'What are you gonna do at your age?'" Chase recalled. "There was only one thing for me to do."

She reopened the restaurant two years later. "No matter what you do on this earth, you have to do it well," she said.

Ray Charles sang about her, and she even served as the inspiration behind Disney's first African American princess, Tiana, in the animated "The Princess and the Frog."

Her customers included Martin Luther King Jr., and two U.S. presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, whom Chase had to chastise. She recalled: "He ordered the gumbo. First thing he does, he takes the hot sauce [and pours it] in the gumbo. 'Mr. Obama, you don't put hot sauce in my gumbo, you don't do that!'"

In 2016, Chase received a lifetime achievement award from the James Beard Foundation for creating food that changed the course of history for good.

In the recent PBS documentary "Leah Chase: The Queen of Creole Cuisine," Chase said, "In this restaurant in some ways we really changed the course of America, and I'd say we changed the course of America over a bowl of gumbo."

Watch Michelle Miller's profile of Leah Chase from 2015: 

The restaurant Katrina couldn't keep down