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Lena Richard’s New Orleans Cook Book: A Groundbreaking Story of Innovation and Resilience

Part of Cooking Up History

In collaboration with the National Museum of American History

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Thursday, August 5, 2021 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1L0414
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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Dee Lavigne (Photo:Chanelle Harris)

Save when you purchase the Cooking Up History series!

Lena Richard, a Black chef and entrepreneur in New Orleans, built a dynamic culinary career in the segregated South, defying harmful stereotypes of Black women that severely diminished their role in the creation and development of American food culture and its economy.

An icon in food history, Richard carved an inspiring professional path for herself. She owned and operated catering businesses, eateries, a fine-dining restaurant, a cooking school, and an international frozen-food business. In 1939, she captured her life’s work in a self-published cookbook that Houghton Mifflin republished under the title New Orleans Cook Book in 1940, the first Creole cookbook written by a Black author.

After the release of her book, Richard’s growing national reputation as one of New Orleans' best chefs launched her career as an early food TV professional in 1949. Throughout her groundbreaking career, she reshaped public understanding of New Orleans cuisine by showcasing and celebrating the Black roots of Creole cooking in a time when pervasive racial stereotypes surrounded the food industry.

Guest chef and New Orleanian Dee Lavigne prepares a classic Creole dish as she recounts Richard's heartening story, which is currently featured in a recently installed case, “The Only One in the Room: Women Achievers in Business and the Cost of Success,” in the American Enterprise exhibition at National Museum of American History. Lavigne also shares her own story as a chef and entrepreneur in the Crescent City and how she draws inspiration from Richard’s career as she continues to build her own business, Deelightful Desserts, during the challenges of the current moment.

This program is hosted in collaboration with the Southern Food and Beverage Museum where Lavigne is the Director of Culinary Programming.

About Cooking Up History

As summer heats up, three dynamic Cooking Up History programs in July, August, and September share fresh insights into American culture past and present through the lens of food.  Presented in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History—home of Julia Child’s kitchen and the FOOD: Transforming the American Table exhibition—each session features a guest chef from places as diverse as New Orleans and Toronto and a Smithsonian host preparing a dish and exploring the history and tradition behind its ingredients, culinary techniques, and enjoyment.

Additional Cooking Up History Programs

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