Friday, 14 June 2019 14:50

Recipe of Love was Leah Chase's food for thought

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by Ron Chapman

The passing of Leah Chase was not merely the end of a wonderful, giving life, but it marks the close of a epoch.  The life and times of Leah Chase chart a history of America’s race relations and its connection to the universal love of food.  

Mrs. Chase did not merely prepare meals for customers, she made a statement with every plate laid down on a table.  In her quiet and gracious manner she soothed raw emotions with her gumbo and fried chicken. She opened her doors to all with love. Her restaurant became a meeting place where people from varied backgrounds could gather around the table and share a wonderful meal.   More importantly, while eating, they also shared one another’s company which did much to grease the wheels of social progress.

 Mrs. Chase was also a kitchen philosopher with amazing insights.   I had the pleasure of having one of her nieces in my class back in 2003.  At that time a class requirement was an interview with someone on video tape (the technology back then).   This young lady interviewed her Aunt Leah. I still have the tape and watch it carefully. I even transferred it to CD and presented on to Mrs. Chase in her restaurant a few years ago.  She remembered the interview. What a mind.

The interview opens with her dressed in her chef’s jacket, sitting at a table in her restaurant sipping a glass of white wine.  In the background one can hear the tinkling of glasses and silverware as the staff sets the tables for the coming customers. This is a quiet and reflective moment in her life.

She discusses the origins of Creole food, her family beginnings starting with a sandwich shop, then transitions into race relations during Jim Crow when no matter how famous an African/American was, they could not go to a hotel or restaurant that was not assigned for Black customers.  As a result, the number of famous belly’s she filled is beyond comprehension. Everyone dined with Leah Chase.

In this interview she also touched upon the problem of troubled youths.  She discussed how things were different in “days gone by.”

As she put it, back in her day the family sat at the table and had supper together.  Mom, dad, sometimes grandparents, and children. They not only shared a meal, they discussed the events of the day.  

Leah took special care to mention how because of the evening repass a parent knew what was happening in a child’s life.  A child could not hide their feelings from Mom. To paraphrase Leah, “That child could hide nothing. One look into their eyes told you something was wrong.”  The youngster was not getting up from the table until the problem was discussed.   She viewed the family evening dinner as a time when families got close and opened up to one another… an exercise in bonding, an opportunity to intercede if needed.

She regretted that these days mark a bygone era.  Everyone now just grabs fast food and eats on their own.  There is no communication or opportunity for communion among family members. Dining became eating.   This, she regarded as both a cause and symptom of today’s problems. The lose of family and family dinners isolates individuals.

I too remember family dinners.  There was no fast food back then.  We ate fresh home cooked meals made from fresh ingredients and gathered around the table at “dinner time.”  Family dinners maintained families by encouraging talking and sharing. Additionally, there were no cell phone distractions at the table.

Mrs. Leah Chase has left a wonderful legacy.  The fine members of her family attest to her strength of character and mentorship.  She gave so much in service to her community and humanity in general. New Orleans and the world have lost an icon.  

I only met Miss Leah on a few occasions with brief conversations, but I will always cherish those treasured moments.  She was one great lady loved by all. What is most important is that she had the opportunity to feel that love before she passed.  That has to mean so much to her family.

Leah Chase left her mark!  Rest in Peace dear lady, you have certainly earned a place in Heaven.

Ron Chapman is an award winning columnist, professor and businessman. He lives in Chalmette Louisiana


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