Remembering Rudy Lombard

Rudy Lombard. Photograph from The Times-Picayune.
Rudy Lombard. Photograph from The Times-Picayune.

New Orleanian and founding member of the SFA, Rudy Lombard passed away Saturday at the age of 75.

Born in Algiers in 1939, his mother worked as a cook for a white family who lived across the street from Pascale’s Manale. In a 2012 episode of WWNO’s Louisiana Eats, he explained this is one of the reasons he became so involved in the civil rights movement.

He’d sometimes accompany his mother to work, and he stood staring at the restaurant, fiercely curious about what went on inside those walls. He was determined that one day he would go in.

Rudy led and participated in several Canal Street sit-ins in 1960. It was his arrest at McCrory’s five-and-dime that led to a U.S. Supreme Court case bearing his name, Lombard v. Louisiana.

He was also a profound oral historian. His book, Creole Feast: 15 Master Chefs of New Orleans Reveal Their Secrets, is a testament to this.

Published in 1978 and written with Nathaniel Burton, Rudy collected the voices of black chefs in New Orleans, men and women whose contributions to Creole cooking were not given their proper due.

Black involvement in the New Orleans Creole cuisine is as old as gumbo and just as important. It is unfortunate that local attitudes toward racial matters have not allowed the contributions of Black people to this cuisine to achieve the preeminence they deserve. ~ Rudy Lombard (From Creole Feast)

The book includes luminaries like Leah Chase of Dooky Chase’s, Sherman Crayton of Arnaud’s, Louise Joshua and Letitia Parker of Bon Ton Restaurant, to only name a few. They share their stories and later in the book, their recipes.

Rudy’s work contributed to a desegregated table, but it also preserved stories of people who shaped the New Orleans table. If it were not for his documentarian efforts, the work of these very cooks may have only been seen and not heard.