Jun 1, 2023 - News

New Orleans chef Leah Chase was inspiration for Disney's Princess Tiana

Photo shows chef Leah Chase sitting and smiling at a table by the kitchen in her restaurant. She's wearing a green t-shirt and a white apron.

American chef Leah Chase (1923 - 2019) in the kitchen of Dooky Chase's in New Orleans, Louisiana, on Jan. 19, 2015. Photo: Paul Natkin/Getty Images

Princess Tiana is largely inspired by New Orleans chef Leah Chase, and her family has been actively involved in the creative process with Disney as the company expands Tiana's presence in the parks.

Why it matters: Tiana was Disney's first Black princess in 2009's "The Princess and the Frog" and broke barriers, much like Leah Chase did with her restaurant, especially during the Civil Rights movement.

Zoom out: Stella Chase, daughter of Leah and one of the family owners of Dooky Chase's, has been on research trips with the Disney imagineers and is involved in brainstorming, they say.

  • "I'm an honorary imagineer," she says, only half joking.
  • She tells of how she went to Avery Island with the Disney team and took them to Canal Street for a night parade.
  • Visitors are deeply interested in Princess Tiana, she says, and come from all over to eat at her restaurant.

Of note: Stella Chase and her family hosted a special dinner for Disney last week — and Disney brought the magic with a visit from none other than Princess Tiana.

  • She wore her green ball gown, posed for pictures and called everyone "sugar plum" as she moved through the dining room.
  • It's the first time the character version of Princess Tiana had ever visited the restaurant.

Zoom in: Tiana will be wearing "adventurewear" for most of the ride — "she's not going to the bayou in a gown," says Ted Robledo, executive creative director at Disney Imagineering.

  • But, Disney staffers hinted there could be some wardrobe surprises soon.
  • They also spent a significant amount of time working with the character's hair and making sure they understood and celebrated Black hair.

What we're watching: Imagineers said they would return to Essence Festival in a few weeks and hinted there could be more details released then about Princess Tiana and the attraction.

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