Monday, January 20, 2020

Crawfish Boil 2020: Who was Leah Chase?


            Leah Chase, the famed New Orleans chef and restauranteur, is featured prominently on the poster for the DGA Friends and Family Crawfish Boil poster. Chase was a household name in New Orleans for her role as a chef and civil rights pioneer. We thought it might be a good idea to provide a little background on her and her remarkable life.

            Chase passed away on June 1, 2019 at the age of 96.  Born in New Orleans, Chase grew up in Madisonville, Louisiana, the oldest of 11 children. When she was a teenager, Chase moved back to New Orleans to complete high school—since Madisonville did not have a high school for students of color. 

            After graduation, she worked a variety of jobs including for a local bookie and as the manager of two amateur boxers. She also worked as a waitress at the long-defunct Colonial Restaurant in the French Quarter. In 1946, she married Edgar “Dooky” Chase, a local musician whose parents owned a street corner stand in Treme that sold lottery tickets and po’ boys. In the ensuing years, Edgar and Leah began converting the stand into a full-service restaurant. Leah took over the kitchen and combined her experience helping out on her family’s farm growing up and her time spent in the service industry to create a menu deeply rooted in the New Orleans culinary tradition.


            During the Civil Rights era, the restaurant, now named Dooky Chase after her husband, hosted African-American and white leaders. Local civil rights leaders A.P. Tureaud and Dutch Morial often met at Dooky Chase to plan protests. In the upstairs meeting rooms, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Freedom Riders organized the Montgomery Bus boycott based on the work of Baton Rouge activists. All the while, Chase participated in these discussions and served everyone gumbo and fried chicken. The Chases hosted voter registration campaigns, NAACP meetings, and a myriad of other activities. Police and city authorities, meanwhile, refused to interfere with the meetings or close down the restaurant. The restaurant served as a neutral ground for city authorities and activists and shutting it down would only enrage the community further. 

            Over the years, Dooky Chase Restaurant began a local institution in the African-American community of New Orleans. The Chases patronized local artists and musicians, hanging their art in the restaurant and invited them to play. The restaurant also became known for its Holy Thursday tradition. Leah Chase would prepare her famous gumbo z’herbes—a meatless gumbo made from various greens—and fried chicken.  Chase found that food had a remarkable power to bring people together. As she explained, "Food builds big bridges. If you can eat with someone, you can learn from them, and when you learn from someone, you can make big changes. We changed the course of America in this restaurant over bowls of gumbo. We can talk to each other and relate to each other when we eat together."  



            Dooky Chase Restaurant flooded during Hurricane Katrina. Leah Chase, now in her 80s, lived across the street in a FEMA trailer for over a year while she and her family worked to raise money to rebuild the restaurant. After reopening, Chase and her family ran the restaurant under limited hours to prevent Chase from overworking herself. She won about every culinary award imaginable both in New Orleans and across the country. She was the inspiration for the Disney film The Princess and the Frog. Chase famously stopped Barack Obama from trying to add hot sauce to her gumbo. 

            Chase was a New Orleans legend, not only for her food, but for her activism, belief in civil rights, her support of local artists and musicians, and her unwavering belief that food could bridge the differences between people.   

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

DGA Crawfish Boil 2020!

It's that time of year again--time to officially announce the 2020 DGA Family and Friends Crawfish Boil!


In the coming weeks, we'll have hotel and restaurant recommendations, suggestions of how to have a great time in New Orleans (before and after the Crawfish boil obviously), band announcements and bios, and explainers about crawfish and how to eat them. 



See you March 7!  

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

King Cake Season!


Cake to celebrate these guys? Sure, why not? 

King cake season lasts from January 6 until Mardi Gras. Why January 6? January 6 is the Feast of the Epiphany, celebrating the visit of the Three Magi (or Kings) to the infant baby Jesus. The first king cakes appeared in France during the Medieval period as a way to celebrate this important moment in the Christian calendar. They soon became an important feature of Carnival (otherwise known as Mardi Gras). 

When the French came to New Orleans in the early 17th century, they brought their holidays and traditions with them. Explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville landed on the coast about sixty miles south of present day New Orleans on March 2, 1699—the day before Mardi Gras. The holiday and the subsequent French colony stuck. 


The king cake, however, did not take hold until the early 1870s. French immigrants brought their king cake recipes with them and in classic New Orleans fashion, a new tradition merged with the old to create something wonderful. It took until about 1950 for the king cake to become a popular staple of New Orleans cuisine. In the past decade or so, king cakes have really come into their own. Popular interest in all things New Orleans grew after Hurricane Katrina and next day shipping have allowed king cakes to be shipped across the country, spreading their influence and deliciousness.

Is that the baby Jesus there?

Now let’s talk about the cake itself. The King cake began as a circular bread dough topped with sugar with a bean inside. Over the past several hundred years, however, the king cake has evolved into a sweet cake covered with sugar and icing. The dough, previously hollow, is now braided and stuffed with cinnamon, cream cheese, or other fillings.  The colors atop a King cake are the same as the ones of Mardi Gras—purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.  

King cakes also feature a small plastic baby hidden somewhere in or underneath the cake. Tradition holds that the person who finds the baby is responsible for buying the next cake. Some claim that the baby represents the baby Jesus and that McKenzie's Pastry Shoppes, a New Orleans area bakery, were the first to put the baby in the cake. In 1990, McKenzie's owner Donald Entringer Sr. denied that the baby had anything to do with Jesus. He told the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “I've heard people say it's supposed to represent the Christ Child, but that's not true. Why we picked this, I don't know. It was cute. It was just a trinket that happened to be a baby.” Whatever the truth may be, watch out for the baby when you bite into your first slice of King cake.



Unsurprisingly here at DGA, everyone has their own king cake preferences. Bill is a big fan of the King cakes from Butter Krisp Diner in Covington. He prefers homemade king cakes and ones filled with strawberry cream cheese. 

Benson has a lasting affection for the king cakes once made by McKenzie’s. Luckily, the Tastee Donut chain in-and-around New Orleans purchased McKenzie’s old recipe and sells them at their stores. McKenzie’s consists of a simple brioche without cinnamon or filling. There’s only colored sugar topping the cake. 


Matt prefers the Mandeville Bake Shop because it's near his house, though the best one he’s ever had came from Randazzo’s. 


Doug’s favorite king cake is whatever one appears at his house.