Women in Food

Leah Chase

Shrimp Clemenceau was a secret weapon in Leah Chase’s arsenal. The simple sauté, featuring mushrooms, crispy Brabant potatoes, garlic and canned green peas has always been a mainstay at Dooky Chase Restaurant, the place she called home for more than fifty years.

Leah loved to prepare the deceptively simple dish for cooking demonstrations. As Leah stirred the pot, she would quip to the crowd, “This is the perfect dish because you can watch your soaps and just before your husband comes home, you throw it together. He’ll think you’ve been cooking all day!”

Galatoire’s Restaurant is credited with creating the original Clemenceau in honor of Georges Benjamin Clemenceau, a World War I-era statesman who became France’s Premier in 1906. The original was a chicken dish featuring broiled, bone-in pieces topped with a garlicky, vegetable laden sauce.

From her earliest days at Dooky Chase, Leah always strived to elevate the experience. Looking back on those times, she would often laugh about serving Lobster Thermidor because it sounded so fancy. The lobster didn’t last, but Leah’s magical touch with Louisiana seafood was legendary.

In Leah’s kitchen, fresh shrimp were substituted for chicken, lifting her Clemenceau to new heights. Glistening with butter and accented with bright green, freshly chopped parsley, Dooky Chase’s Shrimp Clemenceau looks as beautiful as it tastes. Her most important finishing touch was paprika. “Creole people love red!” she’d claim. “I sprinkle a little paprika in almost everything. It brightens the dish up.”

One of my happiest memories with Leah is of the bright, sunny Saturday morning we cooked Clemenceau together to celebrate the post-Katrina reopening of the downtown Crescent City Farmers Market. We collaborated on a combo version, sautéing strips of boneless chicken with the garlic and mushrooms before piling on the shrimp and Brabant potatoes for the grand finale. When I find myself missing my dear old friend, I stir up a pot of Clemenceau — and in my mind’s eye, we’re laughing together again.