African American Legacies: Lena Richard First Celebrity Chef and TV Show Personality in New Orleans

Meet Lena Richard, the Celebrity Chef Who Broke Barriers in the Jim Crow South!

In 1949, nearly a year after New Orleans’ WDSU-TV went live for the first time, Lena Richard, an African American Creole chef and entrepreneur, brought her freshly prepared dishes to a family-style kitchen TV set and took to the screen to film her self-titled cooking show—the first of its kind for an African American.

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The show, titled “Lena Richard’s New Orleans Cook Book” was one of the earliest offerings on the station, and became so popular that WDSU-TV began airing her show twice weekly on Tuesdays and Thursdays. While the program welcomed a racially mixed audience, the majority were white middle- and upper-class women, who leaned on Richard’s culinary expertise for all things Creole.


Mama Lena was the “Martha Stewart” of New Orleans—a trained chef, acclaimed cookbook author, restaurant and catering business owner, frozen food entrepreneur, TV host and cooking school teacher. With skillful élan, Richard artfully tore down racial and economic barriers in the heart of the Jim Crow South, improving the livelihoods of current and future African Americans in her community. And while Mama Lena proved to be a mid-century force of nature across the food industry, today, her story remains largely forgotten by both New Orleans and the nation. (Provided by @smithsonian)