Raising Economic Futures Through Cooking

Lena Richard was born in Louisiana. At the age of 16, she became a domestic worker for a prominent family. When she would visit the kitchen, the head of the family encouraged her to try new dishes. It didn’t take long for Lena to be hired as a cook.

Lena took cooking classes locally and then was sponsored to attend a prestigious cooking school in the north. While she was the only woman of color in the school, she found that her cooking skills were more advanced than other students. In fact, she knew more than most of the faculty. She was so proud of the dishes that she created that she was inspired to write down her recipes. She published her own book which was praised by noted field critics and this led to a publishing contract.

Lena’s book was different from others. She acknowledged those who inspired the dishes she wrote about. She wanted to use her book to educate young African Americans to learn cooking skills so they could raise their economic status. She opened a cooking school to further her mission. She was paying forward the boost she had been given.

After serving as a head chef at prominent restaurants, Lena decided to open her own restaurant. The restaurant became one of the few places where blacks and whites enjoyed meals together, defying segregation laws.

When TV became available in households, Lena was asked to host a cooking show. Again, she broke through racial barriers. Lena was a natural on TV and spread interest in her dishes to all who watched the show. Lena was in effect integrating the food tastes of the audience consisting of blacks and whites. Lena died unexpectedly at the age of 58.

Hidden heroes often use their talents to raise the quality of life for others. Lena had a remarkable impact on the economic futures of African Americans by giving them a skill that was valued. The national popularity of New Orleans cooking owes a lot to Lena Richard.

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“Food is maybe the only universal thing that really has the power to bring everyone together. No matter what culture, everywhere around the world, people get together to eat.” – Guy Fieri (Restaurateur, Author)

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