Thursday, June 27, 2024
By Heather Green, head of reader services

Since 2021, Walt Disney Imagineers have traveled to Louisiana to research the flora and fauna of the bayou and the unique culture of New Orleans, in hopes of bringing the next chapter of Princess Tiana’s story from the big screen to Disney theme parks. Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, the highly anticipated new attraction at Frontierland at Magic Kingdom Park, opened for previews two weeks ago—with HNOC President/CEO Daniel Hammer in attendance, along with Saints players Drew Brees and Cam Jordan—and is available to the general public today.

(Photo by Amanda Frentz, HNOC)

The musical ride, a complete refashioning of Disney’s long-running Splash Mountain attraction, picks up after the events of the 2009 animated feature The Princess and the Frog and finds Tiana and her friend Louis, who is never far from a trumpet, trying to put together a band for a Mardi Gras celebration.

HNOC staffers take the plunge into Tiana's Bayou Adventure. (Left inset: Photo by Disney. Other photos by Amanda Frentz, HNOC)

To capture the spirit of the city, the Disney Imagineering team spent years consulting with food historians, chefs, musicians, and cultural institutions, including the Historic New Orleans Collection. During their many visits to HNOC, the Imagineers spent time in the Williams Research Center, toured exhibit spaces, and met with staff to learn more about the city’s rich history. At least one research trip focused on a behind-the-scenes look at the traditions of Carnival, with discussions on the pageantry of the balls, the intricate beadwork of Black Masking Indians, and iconic throws.

(Photos by Heather Hodges, HNOC)

As the final touches were being added to Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, the Imagineers invited HNOC staff to attend a soiree to celebrate the opening. The event, designed to mimic a New Orleans neighborhood block party, featured a brass band, twists on classic dishes such as muffulettas and jambalaya, appearances by Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen, and opportunities to experience the new ride.

The film takes place in 1920s New Orleans, and the character of Tiana, Disney’s first Black princess, is loosely based on the late New Orleans chef Leah Chase (1923–2019). Known as the “Queen of Creole Cuisine,” Chase found her love of food and the restaurant business working in French Quarter eateries, just like Tiana. Tiana embodies Leah Chase’s welcoming nature, and the ride offers nods to ingredients that might have been found in her own home kitchen.

Tiana's  Bayou Adventure includes many nods to chef Leah Chase, including her kitchen. (Photo by Amanda Frentz, HNOC)

Chase, along with her husband, Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr., transformed Dooky Chase’s Restaurant from a sandwich shop into a fine-dining establishment, serving civil rights activists, presidents, musicians, and locals alike. The legendary chef talked with HNOC Senior Historian Mark Cave in 2015. The almost 90-minute oral history covers the span of Leah Chase’s life, from her upbringing in Madisonville, Louisiana, to segregated French Quarter restaurants, to her championing of the arts.

In addition to the oral history, HNOC holds ephemera and photographs of Chase and her husband, including images with the Data Dolls taken by Harold Baquet, photos of the interior and exterior of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, a family portrait, and a 1982 image of the restaurant’s large menu board.

 (HNOC, acquisition made possible by John J. Uhl Porché 2017.0034.7)

For those eager to try their hand at recreating one of Leah Chase’s memorable dishes at home, the WRC library has copies of And Still I Cook and The Dooky Chase Cookbook available to view in the reading room. These resources and more are accessible to researchers, chefs, home cooks, and lovers of food who want to learn more about Leah Chase’s life and award-winning work—whether they’ve been to Disney’s Magic Kingdom or not.


About the Historic New Orleans Collection 

Founded in 1966, the Historic New Orleans Collection is a museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to the stewardship of the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South. Follow HNOC on Facebook and Instagram.