“There is no place in the world that can compare with Louisiana in cooking, except Paris, and we can do just as well here as the cooks do there.” – Nellie Murray, March 18, 1894
Nellie Murray was the most sought-after Créole de couleur chief caterer in New Orleans for many premier society balls and parties in the 1890s. Murray was the Leah Chase of the late 19th century who was born into slavery in Bayou Goula, La. around 1835. Murray, her mother and sister were owned by the family of the 14th Louisiana Governor, Paul Octave Hébert. By the end of the Civil War, Murray moved to New Orleans as a servant for the Hébert family. In New Orleans, she used the knowledge she learned from her mother and grandmother, who were both enslaved cooks, to amass a fortune by the late 19th century.
At the height of Murray’s culinary career, she traveled throughout Europe as a personal chef, assumed the position as Chef de cuisine for the Louisiana Mansion Club during the 1893 World’s Fair Columbian Exposition in Chicago, fed American soldiers before departing for battle in the Spanish-American War and catered a private luncheon for the 1903 National Suffrage Convention held in New Orleans, attended by the famous suffragette, Susan B. Anthony. By the time Murray died in 1918, she had gained legendary status, spoke out against New Orleans segregated streetcar laws and paved the way for future women of color in the New Orleans culinary industry such as the pioneering WDSU 1940’s cooking show host Lena Richard and chef and co-owner of the legendary Dooky Chase restaurant, Leah Chase.
On Saturday, October 8 at the home of John and Donna Cummings, founders of the Whitney Plantation Museum will host this late 19th century New Orleans Creole feast to raise funds for the final stage of production for the Leah Chase: Queen of Creole Cuisine Documentary by Bess Carrick (scheduled release date is early 2017, WLAE-TV, New Orleans). A small portion of funds raised will be donated to the Dillard University Ray Charles Program in African-American Material Culture for student and community programming. The Nellie Murray Feast is one of the official signature events for the New Orleans Tricentennial.
For the first time, the rich history and contributions of Murray to New Orleans and its famous Creole cuisine will be honored and celebrated by recreating some of Murray’s late 19th century dishes by New Orleans chefs Edgar ‘Dook’ Chase IV, William Sampson, Syrena Johnson, Linda Green, Jeffrey Heard, Frank Roman and Kevin Mitchell who lead the culinary team for the Nat Fuller Feast in Charleston last year. In addition, Victory Bar owner and bartender, Daniel Victory will prepare two 19th century cocktails for the occasion and Opera Creole, Polymia String Quartet and Jonathan Cohen will provide entertainment.
Tickets to this legendary feast are available online at www.nelliemurrayfeast.com.