Grits, fried chicken, black-eye peas, greens — these are the rich, imaginative "comfort" foods your grandma used to cook, and they are a few of the staples of a Soul food tradition that is central to New Orleans cuisine.
The roots of Soul food are often traced back to a time when Southern slaves had to make do with the leftovers — foods like the green tops of vegetables and the ribs, feet, and skin of the pig. But with these basic ingredients and the vegetables, herbs, and few chickens they were allowed to raise on their own, slave cooks were able to create an elaborate tradition all their own. And what started out as "making do" is now making a splash on menus around New Orleans.
Passing the Flame
Whether it’s Soul or Creole or some wonderful combination of the two, the real secret ingredient to New Orleans’ cooking is tradition — family tradition, to be precise. A good example of this is taking place at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, a Creole-Soul institution in New Orleans’ Tremé neighborhood.
For decades, award-winning Chef Leah Chase has served prominent African-American politicians, musicians, and businesspeople her classic Soul food, gloriously influenced by New Orleans’ French, Sicilian, and Italian traditions. This is a place people like Ray Charles (who wrote "Early in the Morning" about it) would frequent, staying up until the wee hours telling stories and eating gumbo.
Leah’s grandson Edgar "Dook" Chase IV grew up working in the family’s restaurant, but decided to pursue a degree and career in accounting. While his head may have been in the corporate world, his heart eventually brought him back to the kitchen. After earning his Diplôme de Cuisine from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, France, he returned to New Orleans to cook and learn alongside a true culinary genius, his grandmother Leah.
Like so many restaurant families in New Orleans, the Chase’s are keeping the flame of tradition alive for all to enjoy.
Finding Your Soul
Several restaurants serve up Soul food in the New Orleans tradition (often with a healthy dose of Creole cooking mixed in):
• Dooky Chase's
• Li’l Dizzy’s Café
• Cafe Reconcile
• Two Sisters Kitchen
• Willie Mae’s Scotch House