Black Culinary History Month

Celebrating Black food history, past and present.

Known the world over as the Queen of Creole Cuisine, Leah Chase ran Dooky Chase’s Restaurant for decades, shining a national spotlight on Creole food. She hosted presidents and musicians, and inspired the Disney princess Tiana. The Chase family’s historic restaurant was a hub for the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.

New Orleans’ own Austin Leslie was a world-famous chef whose cuisine was synonymous with Creole Soul. He was known for his famous fried chicken, which he served throughout his career at Chez Hélène, Jacques-Imo’s and Pampy’s. The chicken always came with his signature garnish: minced garlic, parsley and a slice of dill pickle.

Nellie Murray was the Leah Chase of the 19th century. Murray, who came from a long line of matrilineal enslaved cooks, was born a slave herself in 1835 in Bayou Goula, Louisiana. She became the most sought-after caterer by the members of New Orleans’ elite society. Her dishes, persona and expertise were lauded in New Orleans, Chicago, New York, Paris and Berlin. Murray’s celebrity chef status helped crown her the New Orleans “Queen of Creole Cuisine.”

Before Julia Child, there was Lena Richard. Though she started out as a domestic worker, by the late 1930s her empire included restaurants, cookbooks — even food manufacturing. She was the first Black woman to host her own cooking show, which debuted on WDSU in 1949, just one year after the station was launched.

Clarence “Buster” Holmes ran an iconic soul-food restaurant where local musicians hung out: the eponymously named Buster Holmes, where all could enjoy a cheap but tasty meal. He sold his famed red beans and rice at the first New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1970, and traveled the world as an ambassador of New Orleans cuisine.

Willie Mae Seaton opened a beauty shop in the historic Tremé neighborhood at the corner of St. Ann and North Tonti streets, eventually turning it into a bar, where her specialty was Scotch and milk.  When customers began to rave about the food she served in the bar, she turned it into a restaurant. Her spectacular fried chicken made her famous — many considered it to be the country’s best and, even now, people come from the world over to eat at her namesake establishment.