When I was a teenager back in the 80s I read a magazine article about Chez Helene and how their chef Austin Leslie was putting out the best soul food and fried chicken hot plates in the Deep South.
Time to head to New Orleans. Back then I only lived 5 hours away in Birmingham. and even though I had yet to begin my career as a chef I still knew and loved good food.
Vanessa was a knockout Russian Jew who loved to eat just as much as I did and in a twist of fortune had an uncle who owned a shotgun on Bourbon Street that we could stay in.
Austin Leslie began his kitchen career in 1942 (he was 8) at the long departed (and much loved) Howard’s Eatery which was owned by his aunt, one Helen Pollock. After stints at Portia’s and DH Holmes, Mr Leslie was installed as the chef at the newly opened Chez Helene on N. Robertson St. in 1964.
Ms. Pollock knew talent when she saw it and the young Austin Leslie had a surfeit. Leslie would eventually become famous when the TV show Frank’s Place modeled themselves after his Chez Helene (he became owner in 1975).
Chez Helene shuttered in 1995. Ten years later Katrina trapped Austin Leslie in his home. He would die a month later at a hospital in Atlanta.
The photo is of the Chez Helene sign now mounted on the wall of a junk store on Burgundy Street in the Bywater.