Lena Richard's Macaroni & Cheese Recipe: Celebrating Black History Month & One of America's First Celebrity Chefs by Ann Marie Patitucci

Pasta Side Dishes Dinner
7 months ago

Lena Richard's Macaroni & Cheese Recipe: Celebrating Black History Month & One of America's First Celebrity Chefs

Black History Month feels especially important this year, as politicians and school boards discuss critical race theory and whether or not to allow the inclusion of Black history in history curricula. Indeed, “according to PEN America, a nonprofit that advocates for freedom of expression, 39 states have introduced over 160 bills in the past year limiting what schools can teach about race, politics, American history, sexual orientation and gender identity. For some educators in those states, that's made teaching about Black History Month especially fraught."

I have researched some remarkable Black Americans over the years, courageous trailblazers who paved the way for others and changed the U.S. and the course of history. I teach the history of Richmond, Va., in one of my college courses, and teaching some of the “untold stories” that students have not come across in their textbooks or K-12 education in general, is particularly gratifying. Fortunately, I have learned some incredible, inspiring stories and am always eager to learn more. For instance, I recently came across an article in Better Homes & Gardens called Four Incredible Black Women Who Changed America’s Food History. I don’t know much about the significant Black cooks in history (or any cooks, for that matter), so I was intrigued.

Unsurprisingly, the Black women who helped to shape America’s culture and food have not often received the credit they deserve. They overcame “racial and gender barriers” and began building a “foundation for other Black women to build on” (Better Homes & Gardens). Ms. Lena Richard, known as “the best Creole chef in New Orleans,” was a pioneer and one of the country’s first “celebrity chefs” (Smithsonian). In 1949 she became the first African American to host her own TV cooking show, 14 years before Julia Child’s show debuted. The show was so popular that the local station, WDSU-TV, began airing it twice a week. Ms. Richard taught cooking classes, penned the first Creole cookbook written by a Black author and ran two companies as well as several restaurants where white and Black customers ate together, breaking segregation laws.

Photo: Newcomb Archive, Vorhoff Library Special Collections, Tulane University via Smithsonian 

According to Ashley Rose Young, a historian and curator at Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Ms. Richard, known to most people as Mama Lena, defied “damaging stereotypes of black working women at the time to show what so many people in New Orleans’ African American community already knew … That African American women are capable, smart, ambitious and facing so many barriers – but that those barriers could be overcome.” She changed the course of history by “[tearing] down racial and economic barriers in the heart of the Jim Crow South…” (Smithsonian). Though she was a trained chef, successful business owner, TV host and bestselling cookbook author, she remains largely forgotten today. Sadly, Mama Lena’s story has become one of the untold stories, while Julia Childs is a household name.

I have loved learning about this incredible person. I think the best way to honor her would be to share her story and share one of her famous recipes directly from her acclaimed cookbook, Lena Richard's New Orleans Cookbook (now known as New Orleans Cookbook). I hope you enjoy honoring Mama Lena Richard and cooking her macaroni and cheese recipe.

Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour and 10 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6


  • 1 cup macaroni pasta
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup grated cheese
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • butter, for greasing

Here’s how to make it:

  1. Cook macaroni in boiling salted water according to package directions. Drain.
  2. Mix flour and salt with grated cheese. Put layer of macaroni in a buttered baking dish. Cover with cheese mixture, repeat layers, having cheese on top. Pour over just enough milk to cover top layer. 
  3. Bake 45 minutes in a moderate oven, about 350 degrees F. 

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Donna John
Fascinating story! Love her simple mac and cheese recipe. Making it soon. Thanks for sharing, Ann Marie Patitucci !

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