- Austin Leslie
Austin Leslie (
July 2 1934– September 29 2005) was an internationally famous New Orleans chefwhose 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 Hurricane Katrina. [ [http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/30/national/30LESLIE.html?ex=1285732800&en=554bcb2354961b49&ei=5090&partner=a-b&emc=rss NY Times. "Austin Leslie, 71, Dies; Famed for Fried Chicken." Kim Severson.] ] He was honored with the first jazz funeralafter Katrina on October 9 2005in the still largely deserted city. The procession, led by the [http://www.tipsevents.com/foundation/coop/hot8/index.htm 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. [Brinkley, p.611] [ [http://www.katc.com/Global/story.asp?S=3956685 KATC. "Jazz funeral held for famous chef"] ] [ [http://www.nola.com/katrinaphotos/ap/gallery.ssf?cgi-bin/view_gallery.cgi/nola/view_gallery.ata?g_id=4202 NOLA.com - Austin Leslie's Jazz Funeral Photo Gallery] ]
With his trademark captain's cap, lambchop
sideburns, and broad smile, he was known as the Godfather of Fried Chicken. [http://whereyatnola.com/page.php?id=238 Where Y'At. "Austin Leslie: The Godfather of Fried Chicken"] ] [http://www.nolacuisine.com/category/great-chefs-of-new-orleans/ NOLA Cuisine.com. Great Chefs of New Orleans: Austin Leslie] ] 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. Holmes restaurant. The department store catered primarily to the affluent white elite of New Orleans, and for the four and 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.
The original location of the restaurant was on North Robertson Street, near the
French Quarter. It became the classic "underground" restaurant, featuring good food at reasonable prices in an off-the-beaten-path location. Despite the modest surroundings, it was compared favorably to the grand New Orleans restaurants such as Brennan's, Antoine's, and Commander's Palace. In addition to receiving rave reviews from the local food critics, Chez Helene also caught the attention of national food writers such as R.W. "Johnny" Apple of " The New York Times" and Calvin Trillin. [ [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9407E0D7163BF937A35751C1A9649C8B63&sec=travel&pagewanted=print NY Times. "It Takes More Than Crayfish to Make a Cajun Wiggle." R.W. Apple Jr.] ] [http://www.nola.com/dining/t-p/index.ssf?/base/entertainment-0/114076707939890.xml NOLA.com. "Love That Chicken." Brett Anderson.] ] The restaurant served haute creole dishes like Oysters Rockefelleras well as down-home items like stuffed bell pepper, fried chicken livers, and mustard greens. His aunt retired in 1975 and sold the the restaurant to Leslie.
Despite its commercial and culinary success, the North Robertson neighborhood became unsafe. Cab drivers would not travel to the area, and hotel concierges would no longer recommend the restaurant. Leslie moved his business to the
French Quarterand opened a branch in Chicago. He also tried his hand at running a number of fried chicken outlets. But the new location did not have the same charm as the original and Leslie eventually closed Chez Helene in 1995 after thirty years of operation. After closing the Chez Helene he wrote and published the cookbook Creole-Soul.
Post Chez Helene
After Chez Helene, Leslie worked for six months in
Denmarkas the executive chef of "N'Awlins". He appeared on Danish television and prepared gumboand jambalayafor the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. After he returned to New Orleans, Leslie met Jacques Leonardi and joined on as the fry-cook of the newly opened [http://www.jacquesimoscafe.com/main.htm Jacques-Imo's] restaurant in the Carrollton neighborhood of New Orleans. He introduced his signature Fried Chicken with Persilladegarnished with a dill pickle to a new generation of eaters. In October of 2004, he left Jacques-Imo's and joined Stan "Pampy" Barre at Pampy's Creole Kitchen in the Seventh Ward. When asked why he left, Leslie said, "I didn't move away from Jack because of money. I moved away from Jacques-Imo's because I wanted to get away from frying. I'm going to die. But I'm not going to die over that fryer." At Pampy's he worked as both a mentor to the kitchen staff, sharing his formidable knowledge of Creole cooking, and as a good-will ambassador in the front of the house, greeting and chatting with guests.
Like many in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Leslie fled up to the attic of his house to escape rising flood waters. He was rescued from his rooftop after two days and evacuated first to the
Morial Convention Center, then briefly to Arkansas, and finally to Atlanta. He was admitted to an Atlanta hospital on September 28 2005with a high fever and died the next day from a heart attack. [http://www.nola.com/weblogs/print.ssf?/mtlogs/nola_tporleans/archives/print083833.html NOLA.com. "Chef Austin Leslie is dead at 71." Brett Anderson.] ]
* "You couldn't fry a chicken better than Austin. You couldn't stuff a pepper better than Austin Leslie." -
* "You think you lose big when you lose your house, but here we lose a person, a person that could help us uplift everything." - Leah Chase
* [Austin Leslie's fried chicken] " tasted as if it were "made from chickens that have spent their entire pampered lives strolling around the barnyard pecking contentedly at huge cloves of garlic." -
* "He was considered by many to be the black analogue to
Paul Prudhomme." - John T. Edge
* Burton, Nathaniel and Lombard, Rudy. "Creole Feast." Random House, 1978. ISBN 0-394-41328-8
* Brinkley, Douglas. "
The Great Deluge." William Morrow, 2006. ISBN 0-06-112423-0
* Collin, Richard. "The New Orleans Underground Gourmet." Simon and Schuster, 1970.
* Edge, John T. "Fried Chicken: An American Story". Putnam Adult, 2004. ISBN 0-399-15183-4.
* Leslie, Austin. "Chez Helene : House of Good Food Cookbook" De Simonin Publications, New Orleans. ISBN 1-883100-02-X
* Leslie, Austin. "Creole-Soul New Orleans Cooking with a Soulfull Twist." De Simonin Publications, New Orleans 2000. ISBN 1-883100-10-0.
Louisiana Creole cuisine
* [http://www.nolacuisine.com/category/great-chefs-of-new-orleans/ "Great Chefs of New Orleans: Austin Leslie." Includes a recipe for Fried Chicken with Persillade]
* [http://www.gumbopages.com/looka/archive/2005-09.html The Gumbo Pages Tribute]
* [http://www.southernfoodways.com/press_creativeloafing.shtml Southern Foodways Alliance. "Bittersweet A culinary remembrance of New Orleans before Katrina and a report on its uncertain fate now." Bill Addison.]
* [http://www.jacquesimoscafe.com/main.htm Jacques-Imo's Cafe]
* [http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=68657 Pampy's Creole Kitchen on e-gullet]
SHORT DESCRIPTION=New Orleans Chef
DATE OF BIRTH=
July 2, 1934
PLACE OF BIRTH=
New Orleans, Louisiana
DATE OF DEATH=
September 29, 2005
PLACE OF DEATH=
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