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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to

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Leah Chase

After fighting adversity in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina levee breeches, Leah Chase began working to reopen Dooky Chase, her family restaurant in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans. That restaurant has been her life’s work.

In 1945, she met musician Edgar “Dooky” Chase II, whose parents owned the restaurant. After the two married, and when their children were old enough to attend school, Leah Chase began working at the restaurant three days a week, first as a hostess, later as a chef.

In the years that followed she has transformed Dooky Chase’s into a landmark of New Orleans cookery, dishing peerless gumbo and other Creole delicacies. Along the way, she has befriended such luminaries as Justice Thurgood Marshall and musician Ray Charles.

Leah Chase is widely known for maintaining the gumbo z’herbes, or green gumbo tradition. This gumbo variation is usually served on Holy Thursday, which is the day before Good Friday. Her gumbo z’herbes is featured on our recipe page.

The interview that follows was originally recorded in 2004 for the SFA’s Founders’ Oral History Project. Mrs. Chase rebuilt her restaurant after Hurricane Katrina, and Dooky Chase’s remains an icon of New Orleans dining. Mrs. Chase died in 2019.

Date of interview:

April Grayson, Friend of the SFA


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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


Alex Raij Txikito

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