We were on a mission to enjoy the Cajun specialties at Dooky’s buffet because the restaurant has an unique attraction.
Dooky Chase’s is the landmark restaurant of the civil rights movement in the United States. In the apartheid 1950s, it was also the only place in town that had a black dining room, a white dining room, and an upstairs where blacks and whites could sit in the same room and not be harassed by the local police. In that upstairs meeting room, community leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Thurgood Marshall, and many others, discussed civil rights issues, plans, and strategy over meals provided by Leah Chase, the Queen of Cajun Cooking.
It was Leah’s vision that drove Dooky’s from a 1941 sandwich shop to the first African-American fine dining restaurant in the United States (and also the first African-American artists’ gallery!). Yet it wasn’t just the restaurant we visited. After a delicious Cajun lunch of fried chicken, pickled okra, red beans and rice, collard greens, and andouille sausage, we went backstage to visit the amazing Leah Chase herself.
At age 95, the very woman who cooked for nearly every civil rights leader that ever marched, a Supreme Court Justice, two US Presidents, famous jazz musicians, and the entire Who’s Who of African-American celebrities, still arrives at the restaurant early every morning to prepare the dishes.
We talked to her when she just sat down after peeling the sweet potatoes for tomorrow’s lunch. Did we mention that she’s 95 years old? She has all her wits about her and then some. All we can say is that she’s not only the Queen of Cajun cooking, she’s also the queen of positive attitude and behavior. Even Hurricane Katrina, which closed Dooky’s for two years, couldn’t stop Leah Chase. It was an honor to converse with this giant of a woman.
If you go, make sure you arrive before it’s open, or be prepared for an hour wait. The buffet is quick, easy and delicious, and Ms Chase loves visitors after lunch, so don’t be shy.