On a Holy Thursday in New Orleans, you’ll find locals packed inside an unassuming restaurant eating a green gumbo that’s one of the city’s most treasured traditions. The woman behind the dish is equally treasured and best known as the “Queen of Creole Cuisine”: Leah Chase.
Leah calls her pre-Easter stew of greens (and every meat imaginable) “Gumbo Z’herb” – a superfood mix of 21 ingredients, meats and greens with every teaspoon essential down to the last pinch of file.
Chef Steve Zucker would make it 31 delectable touches of spices, meats and veggies in homage to his culinary hero. Zucker’s tribute has a taste all its own and a fresh honor as one of Alabama’s “100 Dishes to Eat Before You Die.”
“She’s an institution – no one can touch Creole cooking like Leah,” offers Zucker – Executive Chef at Dauphin’s in downtown Mobile where Gumbo Z’herb is a menu favorite. At the age of just 17, North Carolina native Zucker traveled south to study Culinary Arts in New Orleans, where he apprenticed for another NoLa legend – Creole-Cajun guru John Folse. Those years soaking up classic Southern dishes had an impact that never left him, even after a degree at Rhode Island’s Johnson & Wales and chef stints in Las Vegas and Maui.
Leah and her husband opened Dooky Chase’s Restaurant in the late 1940’s – and over the years became legendary both in the kitchen and for gathering mixed race patrons in an era long before those boundaries were crossed in the mid 60’s. The diminutive always-smiling 94-year old has fed Presidents, celebrities from Duke Ellington to Ray Charles (who sang about her) and was the inspiration for Princess Tiana in Disney’s “Princess and the Frog.” Perhaps the country’s highest culinary honor – James Beard – has tapped both legend and protégé. Zucker has been invited to cook at the James Beard House, while Chase was named to the James Beard Foundation’s Hall of Fame among endless other honors.
Leah’s Z’herb (pronounced “zairb”) features smoked ham, sausage and brisket while Zucker adds Alabama Conecuh sausage, bacon and even turkey wings. Another Alabama product – the Smoke Pistol – adds the final flavor. “For me this has been a way to celebrate one of my life’s inspirations. Being honored for this version of her masterpiece is tremendous.”
Dauphin’s combines classic coastal cuisine with a sky-high panorama dubbed by OpenTable as one of the “100 Most Scenic Dining Views in America.” Dauphin’s is part of Bob Baumhower’s 13-restaurant gumbo known as Aloha Hospitality.
To learn more – visit their website: www.godauphins.com.