Zella Palmer, restaurant consultant, chef, author, professor, fundraiser and culinary scholar is the Chair and Director of the Dillard University Ray Charles Program Food Studies Program in New Orleans, Louisiana. Palmer served as a curator at the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago. Palmer teaches Restaurant & Catering Management and Food Studies courses at Dillard University. Palmer has worked in the restaurant industry for over twenty years. Palmer is also a trained chef in (New Orleans) Creole, Latino & Global fusion cuisine. Zella has conducted cooking demos across the globe.
As the Chair of the Dillard University Ray Charles Program, Palmer curated the Story of New Orleans Creole Cooking: The Black Hand in the Pot academic conference that invited local and national scholars including New Orleans Civil Right legend, A. P. Tureaud, Jr. and African-American culinary historian, Michael Twitty in April 2015. In 2014, Palmer launched the Dr. Rudy Joseph Lombard: Black Hand in the Pot Lecture Series that has presented guest speakers to Dillard University students, faculty staff, and persons as Dr. Howard Conyers, a rocket scientist and barbecue pitmaster from South Carolina. Palmer raised over $1 million dollars in grants and private donations for the Dillard University Ray Charles Program.
In the fall of 2016, Palmer and her students filmed and produced the documentary The Story of New Orleans Creole Cooking: The Black Hand in the Pot about the history and contributions of the world-famous New Orleans Creole Cuisine. She also is the author of three cookbooks and many articles. Her latest publication, Recipes and Remembrances of Fair Dillard: 1869-2019 shares archival recipes and stories from Dillard University. In 2016, she was the guest speaker for NYU Food Studies, Nicholls State University, and Maryville University. Palmer serves on the board of Longvue House & Gardens, New Orleans Arts & Culture Coalition and the Nellie Murray Feast Steering Committee.
There were many times she sat down with the late Mrs. Leah Chase, Queen of New Orleans Creole Cuisine. Those conversations with Mrs. Chase was turned into an article that appeared in the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, Cultural Vistas (64 Parishes) in 2018 and a tribute for Essence Magazine, 2019. Numerous organizations and individuals continue to receive her support in preserving culture and research. Palmer performed as Nellie Murray for La Cocina in San Francisco, California in 2019. Nellie Murray was the most sought after caterer in nineteenth-century New Orleans, the Leah Chase of the era. Palmer and a group of prestigious New Orleans women curated the Nellie Murray Feast in 2016 which raised over $200,000 for the Leah Chase documentary and the Dillard University Ray Charles Program. Palmer received the 2018 ‘Cultural Bearer Award’ from the Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame. Palmer speaks English and Spanish fluently. To learn more about Zella Palmer, go to www.maisonzella.com.