New Orleans culinary

chef Warren Leruth was at the top of his game in 1977.

He adapted his Belgian heritage and embraced the French spelling of his name when he opened his signature restaurant, LeRuth’s, a reference point for many of today’s celebrity chefs.

The successful chef, restaurateur and food scientist wanted to give back to his community, and the result is one of Leruth’s greatest legacies. Leruth died in 2001 at 72, but he left a legacy of great cuisine and charity.

As chef Leruth’s widow, Marie, and their son, Larry, recall, Leruth first approached WWL-TV’s news director, Phil Johnson.

The two men, who were friends, cooked up what would become a signature event to benefit St. Michael Special School.

“My dad first approached Sister Lillian McCormack, who was a bit hesitant about the idea of a culinary fundraiser for the school. But when Phil Johnson intervened with a little bit of gentle persuasion, the Chefs’ Charity for Children was born,” Larry Leruth said.

Thirty-six years later, chef Warren Leruth is still giving back to one of the most deserving of all New Orleans institutions, St. Michael’s Special School.

Today, the Chefs’ Charity has evolved into a primary revenue resource for the school, which specializes in educating and training children with major learning disabilities.

The school operates under the direction of the Archdiocese of New Orleans Catholic school system and accommodates approximately 200 students within a calendar year.

St. Michael’s devoted staff and faculty provide a loving environment within which these special children flourish.

This past week, an army of devoted supporters staged one of their largest and most successful fundraising events to date.

The grand ballroom of the Hilton Riverside Hotel was packed to capacity with more than 1,400 patrons in attendance, about a dozen participating celebrity chefs, an incredible array of auction items, a collection of treasures for the raffle and an unlimited supply of generosity from the countless vendors who make the event possible each year.

Also palpable at every Chefs’ Charity event is the loving spirit of the three key players who made it all happen.

With just one pass around the room you get the sense that chef Leruth, Phil Johnson and Sister Lillian are smiling down on it all from above, still giving back far beyond their time on this earth. What a loving legacy they’ve left behind.

St. Michael Special School is located Uptown in New Orleans at 1522 Chippewa St. Its next major fundraising event takes place in April. For more information call (504) 524-7285 or visit http://www.

La Vie de Ville captures city life New Orleans style every Thursday in the Advocate New Orleans Community News Section. Send information on your upcoming event to