Chef Dee Lavigne on Lena Richard for Cooking Up History
Chef Dee Lavigne Credit: Chanelle Harris

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

Lena Richard‘s groundbreaking career as a chef, cookbook author, and restaurateur in the segregated South set the standard for New Orleans cuisine and Creole cooking during the first half of the 20th century. During the Jim Crow era’s oppressive racism, Richard established a catering business, a fine-dining restaurant, a cooking school, and more within the Louisiana city. By 1939, she self-published the first Creole cookbook written by a Black person; a year later a publishing house republished the text as New Orleans Cook Book. In 1949, Richard also became the first Black woman to host a television cooking show under the same name as her book—revolutionizing the public’s perception of Creole food by highlighting its Black roots. Eighty-two years after the original release of New Orleans Cook Book, Richard’s legacy continues to define both Creole cuisine and New Orleans’ dining scene. As part of the Smithsonian Associates’ Cooking Up History series, in which viewers learn about American history through food, guest chef and New Orleans resident Dee Lavigne will prepare a classic Creole shrimp bisque while discussing the life, times, and influence Richard had on American cuisine and Lavigne’s own career. Richard’s story is also featured in “The Only One in the Room: Women Achievers in Business and the Cost of Success” in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s American Enterprise exhibition. The virtual lecture begins at 6:45 p.m. on Aug. 5. Find the shrimp bisque recipe and register at $20.