January 2016
By:Rebecca Santana, AP

Leah Chase has spent her culinary life on the cutting edge of history, mixing fine dining with her southern Louisiana roots at her classic New Orleans restaurant, Dooky Chase's.

She broke the city's segregation laws decades ago by serving white and black customers, including civil rights leaders like Thurgood Marshall. She offered an upscale, white-tablecloth dining experience at a time when none existed for blacks in the city. Her jambalaya, fried oysters, shrimp Creole and Gumbo des Herbes have introduced countless people to Creole cooking.

The woman who's been dubbed the Queen of Creole Cuisine says she has few regrets - maybe just one.

"Maybe I should have worked harder. I don't know. But I did the best I could do," says Chase, sitting in the dining room during a recent lunch rush, while fielding tourists' requests for autographs of her cookbooks or photos.

The notion that Chase hasn't worked hard enough would shock her customers. Using a walker, she still goes table to table and greets diners and steps into the kitchen to make sure her fried chicken is crispy on the outside and moist on the inside.

Chase, who turns 93 on Wednesday, has spent most of her life cooking and directing the restaurant named after her husband in Treme, a historic African-American neighborhood. New Orleans restaurateur John Besh calls her an "ambassador of our food, our people of south Louisiana," where she prepares classic dishes like red beans and rice or shrimp Clemenceau.