XXIX: The Real Disney Princess Part 3

The third and final Disney princess in this series is Princess Tiana, from the movie The Princess and the Frog. While mostly inspired by Princess Emma from the E. D. Baker’s novel The Frog Princess (which is based on the Grimm Brothers’ story The Frog Prince), she is also loosely based on celebrity chef Leah Chase, known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine.

Chase was born in Madisonville, Louisiana, in 1923 — two years after Tiana’s story takes place. She moved to New Orleans to attend high school. After high school, she took a job at the Colonial Restaurant in the French Quarter, which is where she learned to cook. Although she never attended college, she holds honorary degrees from six different colleges and universities. At the age of 22, she married Edgar “Dooky” Chase II, whose parents were the owners of Dooky Chase Restaurant in the 5th Ward. Chase began working at Dooky Chase in the 50s, gradually adjusting the menu to reflect her own Creole heritage and amassing an impressive collection of African-American art which she displayed in the restaurant. Dooky Chase was known as a gathering place for participants in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and had been an integrated restaurant since before World War II.

In the late summer of 2005, Dooky Chase was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina and scheduled to reopen in the summer of 2006, but funding was difficult to come by. The New Orleans restaurant community banded together in April of 2006 to hold a benefit, and raised $40,000 to help reopen Dooky Chase. The restaurant’s famous art collection was saved from the floodwaters by Chase’s grandson, who had them placed in secure storage.

Chase is also the author of three cookbooks — The Dooky Chase Cookbook, And I Still Cook, and Down Home Healthy: Family Recipes of Black American Chefs — and the host of her own televised cooking program. In 2012, a series of paintings entitled Leah Chase: Paintings by Gustave Blanche III was exhibited in the New Orleans Museum of Art. One painting from the series, entitled Cutting Squash, was acquired by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, making Chase the only chef whose portrait is kept in the gallery’s permanent collection.

Although it’s very clear that Tiana’s life and story are very, very different from Leah Chase’s, it was Chase who inspired Tiana’s personality — her determination to build a restaurant from nothing and her prominence as a self-made chef in the New Orleans Creole cuisine scene.

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