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Arts & Culture

Culinary and Literary Collide in New Orleans at Southern Storytellers

Dooky Chase owner Leah Chase and food author Jessica Harris speak at the Ogden Museum’s Southern Storytellers series about food culture and history.

She is legend. Doyenne of delicious food. Queen of Creole Cuisine. Curator of African American art. Voice of gumbo z’herbes. When she speaks, the room goes quiet. When she cooks, the restaurant goers get even quieter. (It’s not polite to talk with your mouth full, you know).  She is mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, neighbor, friend and New Orleanian. She is Leah Chase.

Leah Chase (staylocal.org)

Thousands have had the pleasure of eating her food. Now next Sunday, October 23, you can have the pleasure of hearing her stories, including those from over fifty years running Dooky Chase, an iconic restaurant in our iconic food city, at the Ogden Museum’s “Southern Storytellers: Culinary Tales with Jessica Harris and Leah Chase.”

It’s a scientific fact that the American South births more stories and storytellers per capita than any other part of the country. (North, bless you’re heart – we’re not saying you’re boring. We are Southern, after all. We’d never be so directly rude. We’re just pointing out the obvious: how very interesting we are).

Artwork in Dooky Chase. Image courtesy of Off the Broiler

Launched in 2008 by the Kohlmeyer Circle, a group of young art and cultural enthusiasts, the Ogden’s Southern Storytellers series brings you into a room with the South’s most talented and engaging writers. Southern Storytellers speaks directly to the larger founding goal of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art – my favorite in town! – to tell the many stories of the South – old and new – through art, music and literature.

Of course, if there’s anything we love better than stories, it’s eating – or preferably telling stories while eating. Next best bet? Stories about eating. And since today Southern food doesn’t have two more divine messengers than Jessica Harris and Leah Chase, I’m expecting a packed house at this Southern Storytellers, “Culinary Tales with Jessica Harris and Leah Chase,” where these longtime friends will discuss food, history, art and trends.

Jessica Harris. Courtesy of Africooks.com

Jessica Harris, author of 11 cookbooks documenting the foods and foodways of the African diaspora, founded the Institute for the Study of Culinary Cultures at Dillard University. Her latest book is High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America. During her fifty years at Dooky Chase, Leah Chase has fed everyone from Jesse Jackson to Duke Ellington, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, James Baldwin, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughn, Lena Horne, and Ray Charles, (a frequent visitor who memorialized Dooky Chase in “Early in the Morning”). During the civil rights era, Dooky Chase was one of the only places in town where mixed-race groups could meet to eat and discuss plans for integration of “whites-only” locations.

The Ogden long ago won my heart and cemented its place as my favorite New Orleans museum. In addition to housing the largest collection of Southern art in the world, it offers phenomenal and brilliantly-curated rotating exhibits, live music-infused weekly Ogden After Hours, and anything-but-old-fogies events like Sippin’ n’ Seersucker and the O-Mazing Race. Plus when I was sent off to my llama-raising aunt to learn to quilt as a kid, she told me that I had the family story-telling gene, so I feel like the Ogden and I share that same life obsession with stories. (True story, by the by.)

Inside the Ogden (neworleans.com)

Southern Storytellers is free to members and $10 for nonmembers – yet another excellent reason to become a member. Delight your senses with priceless stories about the city and cuisines you love and who knows, maybe hear some special insider recipe secrets! Then, wander the museum and check out exhibits like “Ersy: Architect of Dreams” and “Óyeme con los Ojos (Hear Me With Your Eyes),” both the subject of this huge write-up in the New York Times.

Southern Storytellers: Culinary Tales with Jessica Harris and Leah Chase
October 23, 2011
12:00 pm – 2:00 pm
Patrick F. Taylor Library

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