LEAH CHASE GUMBO Z’HERBE SECRET TO LASTING RELATIONSHIPS
Posted January 20, 2010
As a new member of the Broadmoor Board of Commissioners, this past weekend I attended a private engagement for Harvard Professor, Doug Ahlers and students from the Kennedy School of Government at Dooky Chase Restaurant. The dining event was in recognition of the Broadmoor Project, an urban development graduate field study program founded by Doug during the immediate months following Hurricane Katrina for the purpose of rebuilding Broadmoor Neighborhood. Five years later, the Project was celebrated Friday night for its phenomenal success with more than 80% of Broadmoor homes rebuilt after the neighborhood was initially declared unrecoverable.
As we ate, The Queen of Creole Cuisine, Leah Chase, honored us as well that night with her presence and reflections on the restaurant’s upper room and its role as a meeting place during the civil rights movement. She remembered two presidents who had dined at the restaurant, one she chastised after he reached for the hot sauce before taking a spoonful of her famed gumbo, the other she complimented for being a good person but at the same time criticized for not being as good a president. There were many other memorable phrases and words to ponder, including Leah’s preference for “that good old yes sir, yes maam” service of years gone by over today’s brand of southern hospitality. I can’t forget the reference she made to her artwork as the “only thing that softens me up.” But it was one comment that really hung in the air and stuck with me as we lapped up red creole gumbo for the first time.
We listened intently as 88 year old Leah Chase delivered a sound piece of advice, “if you can’t get over it, around it or under it, just go through it.” This was the recipe she used to get through Hurricane Katrina and restore her family’s near century old restaurant to its former glory. A slight stoop, slowed gait, and a lustrous completely silver cropped mane which lay in sharp contrast to her almost wrinkle free almond colored complexion, were the only betrayals of Leah’s true age. And like her artwork displayed on boldly painted red walls, her presence adorned the room that night with understated elegance and beguiling youth, yet Leah has been married to Dooky Chase II for an astounding 66 years.
Growing up in New Orleans, we were taught to believe that if it wasn’t brown, then it just wasn’t gumbo. That night my belief changed as I stumbled upon the mecca of all gumbos, a red, piping, hot soup replete with bite sized hot sausage and other spices that excited my taste buds like no other had. In addition to traditional brown gumbo I have known all my life, I learned that there was yet a third type of gumbo on the menu, a green gumbo z’herbe. This gumbo was prepared with five different greens—mustards, collards, turnips, watercress and it included beet tops, lettuce and cabbage alongside sausage and stew meat. Notwithstanding this, my spicy red creole gumbo experience was the most titillating yet and it alongside Leah’s advice and long marriage to Dooky got me to thinking about the two lesser appreciated relationship stages, mature love and settling down.
I contend that like creole red gumbo, the first stage of a relationship is an exciting one. The gumbo’s color alone suggests the passion, the longing and eventual emotional attachment that are bound to ensue if consumed regularly. And one feels lucky to have found a seemingly scarce treasure. Oh, so thrilling it is! But perhaps this one is not sustainable over the long run because the reliable comfort of traditional brown gumbo ultimately remembered from childhood is what really makes one feel safe. That being said, could traditional brown gumbo be analogous to stage two in a relationship?
The average length of an American marriage ending in divorce is about 7 years and that of a relationship in general is only 4-5 months, according to Dr. Keith Ablow, psychiatrist and Fox news channel correspondent. Given the Chase’s had been married over half a century, had Leah concocted something more than multi colored liquid endorphins in those steamy cauldrons? How could Leah’s gumbos teach us how, when or why we should just “go through it,” as she had advised earlier, where relationships are concerned? Afterall, Leah and her husband make up less than 5 percent of the married American population that reach the third relationship stage or in their case, the half century married mark. Does the secret potion for relationship longevity and maybe even reverse aging rest with Leah’s gumbo?
I offer exhibit A into evidence. The color brown is symbolic for dependability. Enter the second relationship stage, a period during which a couple will learn one another’s true, sometimes grating personality traits, decide what can be accepted or changed and whether the relationship is worth the angst of continuing. It’s also a time where in importance, passion, represented here by red creole gumbo, plays a backseat to dependability. Will he get out of bed at two in the morning to fix my flat tire? Unfortunately, also here is where many relationships end because sometimes a steady dose of dependability and consistency is mistaken for boredom and a lack of spark, scientifically known as that chemically induced “in love” feeling experienced during the first stage. Here is where reconciliations are made about what in a mate can be accepted and what must be changed. In short, the rose colored glasses are replaced with a more discerning eye.
If what is suggested in Leah’s advice is followed, barring unsavory circumstances and providing love still truly exists, perhaps here is where a couple should just “goes through it,” it being the second stage. Perhaps “going through it” means finding longevity, the coveted prize on the other side. Or maybe, it is simply finding a bowl of Leah’s piping hot green gumbo z’herbe? I mean after all, the color suggests peace, tranquility and unconditional acceptance, faults included. After all the stretching, molding and emotional contortions experienced in stage two, isn’t that desired? As such, I contend that this third stage is somewhat of a homestretch where a combination of all three stages coexist just like the sausage and many herbs that can all be found in each one of the three different gumbos offered at Dooky Chase.
So let’s say you followed the advice, “gone through it” and made to stage three of the relationship. But you find that the spark is missing. So instead of throwing the relationship out like a spoiled pot of gumbo, add a little paprika, and when you are not feeling safe, add a little browned roux. Relationship Translation: Spice up the relationship with a surprise, remembering to respond consistently to each other’s needs. This delicious green mixture of vegetables in a stock, otherwise known as gumbo z’herbe, is offered as my final piece of evidence, arguably proving beyond a reasonable doubt, that while red creole gumbo may issue forth a temporary drool, and traditional brown gumbo is the doorway to heaven, it is green gumbo z’herbe that represents the ultimate gustatory relationship secret for longevity—dependable, yet exciting, unconditional peaceful acceptance.
Until next time, here is to discovering surprising secrets about love and relationships in a bowl of gumbo.
The staff and I congratulate Leah Chase on her marriage, reopened restaurant, Disney’s rendition of her in Princess and the Frog, and on her recent January 6th birthday. We love you for your wisdom and we thank you for the many years of great food you have served New Orleans. If you would like to learn more about Dooky Chase visit the restaurant at 2301 Orleans Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana 70119 (504) 821-0535 or visit our local Borders bookstore at 3338 Saint Charles Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana 70115 (504) 899-1501, www.borders.com , where you can pick up a copy of Carol Allen’s book, Leah Chase Listen, I Say Like This.
“Living the Truth: Transform Your Life Through the Power of Insight and Honesty” by Dr. Keith
” Leah Chase Listen, I Say Like This” by Carol Allen