by Ian McNulty
Sneak into the kitchen of Dooky Chase Restaurant (2301 Orleans Ave., 821-0535) on any given weekday and you’ll probably see Leah Chase chopping trinity or completing one of her classic Creole dishes. Later this month, you’ll be able to see her doing the same on the walls of the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) or attend a gala where the fruits of those labors will be on the plates.
NOMA opens its new exhibit “Leah Chase: Paintings by Gustave Blache III” on April 24. The night before, April 23, the museum hosts a gala to preview the show and honor its subject, the indefatigable chef, restaurateur and culinary icon, who is also providing the evening's food.
Chase, who turns 90 this year, remains a constant presence in the dining room and kitchen of Dooky Chase Restaurant. That’s where artist Gustave Blache studied her for a series of portraits to be featured at the exhibit, in a hall that has been painted red to match Dooky Chase’s main dining rooms no less. One of Blache’s works from this series, titled “Cutting Squash” and showing Chase doing the same, was recently acquired by the National Portrait Gallery.
“The images captured in the Chase series depict the less glamorous — but essential — aspects of the restaurant business,” says Miranda Lash, NOMA’s curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. “Wearing her signature pink cap, you see Leah cutting vegetables, pouring oysters, even washing dishes. The process of cooking is elevated to its rightful status, as a work of art itself.”
The gala event features a preview of the exhibition and the inauguration of the Leah Chase Art Purchase Fund, which the museum will use to acquire work by African American artists for its permanent collection.
So what do you do when a major New Orleans cultural institution honors you like this? If you’re Leah Chase you immediately volunteer to provide the food. She’ll be catering the event, which is co-chaired by her son Edgar Chase and by restaurateur Ralph Brennan, who operates his Café NOMA inside the museum.
The Leah Chase Gala is on April 23 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tickets start at $75. Click here for details. The exhibit is on view from April 24 through Sept. 9.