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By Kate Krader
In the pantheon of chefs who are larger than life, Leah Chase stands tall. More than a year after her death, the queen of Creole cooking is still part of the conversation. The chef and owner of the legendary Dooky Chase in New Orleans was the inspiration for Tiana in Disney’s 2009 film, “The Princess and the Frog.” She made news when she slapped President Barack Obama’s hand when he visited her restaurant and tried to add hot sauce to her gumbo before tasting it. In 2016, she had a cameo in Beyonce’s “Lemonade” video, seated in a throne-like chair.
But Chase is most renowned for using food as a tool for activism decades before such platforms as Bakers Against Racism became popular. Chase advocated for Black culture early on, using her restaurant as a meeting place for people such as Rosa Parks.
“So much of the civil rights movement was planned at restaurants,” said chef Marcus Samuelsson, a longtime friend of Chase. “She would say to people in the movement, ‘You can come to my restaurant,’ which was breaking the law. People hadn’t thought about food as a way to activate, but she did.”
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