at dinners and luncheons.” Murray’s celebrity chef status helped crown her the New Orleans “Queen of Creole Cuisine.” Murray, who came from a long line of matrilineal enslaved cooks, was born a slave herself in 1835 in Bayou Goula, Louisiana. Owned by Louisiana’s 14th governor, Paul Octave Hébert, and his family, she prepared the finest dishes on the family plantation for the Hébert family and their guests. By the end of the Civil War, Murray moved with the family to New Orleans, where she continued to cook and serve them. Once the Civil War was over, Murray was freed, and she went on to launch one of the most successful catering businesses that ever existed in New Orleans. In 1893, Murray was given the title of chef de cuisine for the Louisiana Mansion Club at the World’s Fair in Chicago. Over- night, Murray became an instant celebrity there. Long lines formed around the Louisiana Mansion Club as visitors waited to taste her famed Louisiana Creole dishes. After the World’s Fair, Murray stayed in Chicago to cook for local society women for a short period of time, eventually returning to New Orleans, where she continued to be of service to society circles — but she also became much more active in social issues. New Orleans loved Nellie Murray. She was again featured in an article, entitled “Nellie Murray on European Cooking.The Loui- siana Colored Woman, Expert as a Chef, Who Made a Tour of the Old World, in Miss Howard’s Service, Gives Her Opinion On the Art of Living Over the Oceans, and Draws, Interesting Contrasts.” in the Daily Picayune on December 4, 1896: “All fashionable New Orleans knows how Nellie is always in demand for every elegant dejeuner a la fourchett e, luncheon and swell dinner, and they know that when a ‘function’ of this kind is placed in her hands their guests will be served with such savory dishes as would make an epicure of Ancient Rome crown her with laurels.” The feature shared details about Murray’s childhood with the Hébert family, how she rose to fame and fortune, and her opin- ion on European cooking after traveling to Paris, Berlin, Rome, Vienna and Bucharest. It is quite clear from the language used in the featured article — and others written about her — that Murray was considered an “aristocrat” and a “lady.” Almost 30 years after slavery ended, Murray traveled the world, sharing her opinion on living and European cuisines, and bringing Louisiana Creole cuisine to the world stage. In 1903,Murray catered a private luncheon for Susan B. Anthony and prominent suffragists at the National American Suffrage Association Convention in New Orleans. During the Spanish- American War, Murray made 1,030 sandwiches along with her famous drip coffee for American soldiers on their way to Cuba, and she spoke against New Orleans’ segregated streetcars. By the end of her career, Murray had amassed a fortune, gave gener- ously to charity and served members of some of the most exclu- sive circles all over the world. But she held her Creole tradition in high esteem, saying, “There is no place in the world that can compare with Louisiana in cooking, except Paris, and we can do just as well here as the cooks do there.”

photo courtesy of DILLARD UNIVERSITY

YOU MAY NOT HAVE HEARD OF HER UNTIL NOW, BUT NELLIE MURRAY WAS THE LEAH CHASE OF THE 19TH CENTURY. She was the most sought-after caterer by the members of New Orleans’ elite society.Her dishes, persona and expertise were lauded in New Orleans, Chicago, New York, Paris and Berlin. The March 18, 1894, Daily Picayun e featured an entire section on Murray: “Do you know Nellie Murray? To admit that you do not is a confession that you are not a member of the New Orleans Four Hundred. All of the fashionable or nearly all of the fashionable functions given in New Orleans, are not considered complete without the assistance of Nellie Murray, whose deft fingers fash- ion many of the dainty dishes that delight both the eye and palate NELLIE MURRAY: THE LEAH CHASE OF THE 19TH CENTURY by Zella Palmer

everyday JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2019


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