Follow Ashley’s adventures in research and cooking as she tries her hand at some of Lena Richard’s recipes.
The Southern Food and Beverage Museum is currently organizing an exhibit about New Orleans culinary icon, Lena Richard. Richard is best known for her cookbook New Orleans Cook Book published by Houghton Mifflin in 1940, and her twice-weekly cooking show on WDSU-TV in 1949-1950. The television show was called “Lena Richard’s New Orleans Cook Book.” The program aired at 5:00 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, although it occasionally aired at 3:00 pm.
Richard was born in New Roads, Louisiana. Her family moved to New Orleans when Richard was a young girl. She grew up at 1572 North Derbigny Street. Richard resided in New Orleans for much of her childhood and adult life. She trained at several cooking schools in New Orleans and in 1918 graduated from the Fannie Farmer Cooking School in Boston.
She opened and operated several eateries in New Orleans, was a renowned caterer and chef and started her own cooking school in 1937. The earliest eatery that Richard opened was the Sweet Shop near her mother’s home on North Derbigny Street in the 1910s. In the 1920s, Richard ran a successful catering business out of her home. After moving to Foucher Street in 1932, she opened an eatery on the same street (name of eatery unknown).
When Richard was promoting her cookbook, New Orleans Cook Book (1940) in the North East, she was recruited by Charles and Constance Stearn to be the head chef of the recently opened Bird and Bottle Inn in Garrison, New York. Lena was highly successful at the restaurant and was known for dishes such as her “Shrimp soup Louisiane.” After returning to New Orleans, Richard opened Lena’s Eatery, located at 2720 La Salle Street in November 1941. Richard left the city once again when she was sought out by Charles Rockefeller of the John D. Rockefeller Foundation to act as head chef of the Travis House restaurant in Colonial Williamsburg. Richard experienced much success at the Travis House and was praised for her delicious dishes by restaurant patrons including Clementine and Mary Winston (Winston Churchill’s wife and daughter).
Around 1945 Richard returned to New Orleans and started her own frozen food business. She cooked and packaged frozen dinners to be shipped across the United States. Richard prepared this food at Bordelon Fine Foods Company located at 530 Metarie Road. In 1949 Richard opened her last eatery called The Gumbo House next to Holy Ghost Catholic Church. The eatery was located at 1936 Louisiana Avenue. The restaurant remained open after Richard’s death in November 1950. Her husband, Percival Richard, daughter, Marie Rhodes, and son-in-law Leroy Rhodes kept The Gumbo House open until 1958.
SoFAB is searching for New Orleanians who may have watched Richard’s cooking show, may have eaten at one her many eateries, or may have known Richard personally. In hopes of sharing a complete history of Lena Richard, SoFAB would like to interview New Orleanians about their recollection of Richard and her cooking. The interviews may become part of the Lena Richard exhibit, and will be archived at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. If you, a family member or friend would like to share stories of Lena Richard, please consider contributing to the Lena Richard Oral History Project. To share information, photographs and other material objects, or for information about interviews please contact Ashley Young at email@example.com_________________________________________________________