Chef Michael's Mentors
Chef Austin Leslie (2 July 1934-29 September 2005)
Chef Leah Chase
He was an internationally famous New Orleans chef whose work defined 'Creole Soul'. He died in Atlanta at the age of 71 after having been evacuated from New Orleans; he had been trapped in his attic for two days in the 98 F heat in the aftermath of the August 29th Hurricane Katrina. He was honored with the first jazz funeral after Katrina on October 9, 2005 in the still largely deserted city. The procession, led by the Hot 8 Brass Band, marched through the flood-ravaged remains of Leslie's old Seventh Ward neighborhood, starting out at Pampy's Creole Kitchen and stopping along the way at the location of the original Chez Helene.
With his trademark captain's cap, lamp-chop sideburns, and broad smile, he was known as the Godfather of Fried Chicken. His distinctive style was the inspiration for the restaurant imagery of the 1987 television show "Frank's Place." While still in high school, Leslie worked at Portia's Fountain on Rampart Street, first as a delivery boy and later in the kitchen under Chef Bill Turner. One of the featured dishes was a crispy fried chicken garnished with sliced dill pickles, which the owner taught him to cook. This would become Leslie's signature item over the next fifty years. After high school he worked as a chef's assistant at the D.H. Holes restaurant.
The department store catered primarily to the affluent white elite of New Orleans, and for the four and a half years he worked there Leslie was not allowed to prepare orders directly for customers, doing prep work instead. In 1964, his Aunt Helen opened Chez Helene and Leslie came to work full time as the chef.
Chase has been the recipient of a multitude of awards and honors. In her 2002 biography, Chase's awards and honors occupy over two pages. She was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s “Who's Who of food and Beverage in America” in 2010.
She was honored with a lifetime achievement award from the Southern Foodways Alliance in 2000. Chase received honorary degrees from Tulane University, Dillard University, Our Lady of Holy Cross College, Madonna College, Loyola University of New Orleans, and Johnson and Wales University. She was awarded the Times-Picayune Loving Cup Award in 1997. The Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana named a permanent gallery in Chase's honor in 2009.
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