300 in Black
Celebrating the Impact of Blacks New Orleanians
Famous for his Creole-Soul style of cooking and for his fried chicken, of course, Chef Austin Leslie began working in restaurants in New Orleans while he was still in high school, first doing deliveries and later in the kitchen.
As a self-taught cook, Leslie went to work in his aunt’s restaurant Chez Helene’s on North Robertson Street in Tremé in 1964 when he was 30 years old. His Aunt Helene retired in 1975 and sold the restaurant to her nephew Austin. At the time Chez Helene had built quite a reputation for both grand dishes like Oysters Rockefeller and downhome meals like stuffed bell peppers, smothered cabbage, and mustard greens,
In 1992, Chef Austin joined Oakland, California-based New Orleans Bill Creole Potato Salads/Food Wholesale Company to manufacture and distribute Austin’s legendary Creole cooking to New Orleans Bill’s supermarket customer base all over California. Austin and “New Orleans Bill”, a native New Orleanian himself, started by doing festivals and Supermarket cooking demonstrations all over California. Leslie later moved Chez Helene from Tremé to the French Quarter. In 1995, he closed the restaurant after 30 years of operation. After traveling across the nation and world, Leslie worked in several local restaurants, including Jacques-Imo’s in Carrollton and Pampy’s Creole Kitchen on N. Broad in the Seventh Ward.
Leslie had been at Pampy’s, where he was part kitchen mentor and part goodwill ambassador, for less than a year when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans Aug. 29, 2005.
During the storm, the 71-year-old chef and New Orleans icon whose distinctive sideburns and captain’s hat made him one of the city’s most recognizable residents had been trapped in his attack for two days before being evacuated from the city.
He suffered a heart attack and died one month later on Sept. 29, 2005, in an Atlanta, Ga., hospital. His was the first jazz funeral held in the city after the storm. The procession started at Pampy’s and went through the Seventh Ward, making a stop in Tremé at the original site of Chez Helene.