A Great Day in New Orleans: A Gumbo Jubilee(III of III) Luncheon with Mrs. Leah Chase.
The Gumbo Jubilee Luncheon at Dooky Chase’s where a large collection of black professionals in food, from farmers to chefs to media professionals were invited from all over the country, was something I believe was needed and its convening in New Orleans was critical to occurring with cooking a whole cow. We were able to break bread together in a safe space because this one particular activity of an otherwise public weekend was not publicized because the work can not occur with out distractions. There was no public media for the luncheon to insure the space was a “safe space” for this culinary family to share openly in dining and conversing in an institution with so much history, particularly civil rights. Note, the whole cow bbq better known as Gumbo Jubilee was open to the public for all to attend and marketed with the resources I had available. Maybe in future years, I will be able to get sponsors. I can’t help that only one media writer wrote about an event I promoted through my social media for over 6 months, Eventbrite, my website www.fromthelowcountrytotheBayou.com, and sponsored Facebook ads, so if you did not hear about the event I apologize you missed a historically significant whole cow bbq event.
With the legacy of the civil rights movement in Dooky Chase’s, this venue was also the perfect place to convene for looking at the inequities in the food space of today, that when you look at American food, it was built upon the backs of a lot of enslaved and indigenous people. So besides convening at Dillard University, an historically black college and university, in which the Ray Charles African American Material Culture Program is housed under the direction of Ms. Zella Palmer, the locations were just as important as the activities being held. The workshop activities were facilitated by noted author Adrian Miller.
Hosting the luncheon was important to me for a variety of reasons, but I wanted us as a group to support Dooky Chase’s restaurant as a group. Next, I also wanted to make sure that Mrs. Chase was able to be involved with the Gumbo Jubilee weekend as she could provide insight and wisdom in food and life that no one else could. I knew we needed to hear from Mrs. Chase, when people who attended an event I co-hosted with BJ Dennis in Charleston and they said it was like a family reunion. What I felt was missing from Charleston even though it was powerful, was that we did not hear from an elder, and there was no one better than Mrs. Chase especially after I did a life changing interview with her for PBS Nourish. I thought about my own family reunion and I thought about when Tyler Perry’s presented Cicely Tyson and she addressed the family in Medea’s Family Reunion. Finally, I thought we had to eat the food that makes New Orleans special and Dooky Chase was the only place to do it because we were covering the other areas of food at Gumbo Jubilee.
During the early planning of Gumbo Jubilee, Zella Palmer and Photographer Eric Waters talked about a picture called a Day in Harlem Photo that was taken during the Harlem Renaissance. I knew I wanted a picture of all the food people who traveled to NOLA for the whole cow bbq similarly to another powerful picture like was done in Charleston. We figured out the best way to make this picture possible is by doing it at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant. We took this picture and only a few people were missing who were preparing things in New Orleans but know I wanted you there Adrian, Enrique, Megan but you sacrificed for Gumbo Jubilee, and I am indebted. While hearing Mrs. Chase speak, I did not realized that she never been around a large group of black culinary professionals and that was humbling to me, because I was part of the reason the convening occur along with the attendees personal sacrifice of resources to travel, and I am thankful. Finally, I was further humbled when Eric Waters said that Judge Rudy Lombard who authored Creole Feast( a book about black New orleans Chefs) did something like this some years ago on a smaller scale and you did something that is bigger than you know. In all, I was simply trying to bbq a whole cow and do it while leading a team of black pitmasters in this experience, because historically African Americans contributions to American BBQ are constantly white washed despite the history books saying different. Further, I wanted to showcase a side of New Orleans and Louisiana food and arts culture, that has not been acknowledged in a meaningful way in my mind especially as the city of New Orleans celebrated it Tricentennial.
However, the picture and conversations I hope that was shared at the luncheon changed people forever. I am indebted to Mrs. Chase and her family for helping to make the luncheon so special so we can have a memory of this day forever, as we work to be the change we seek in this industry.