The Chase Family Are A New Orleans Institution – Now They’re A Disney One, Too

As Tiana’s Bayou Adventure opens at the Magic Kingdom, the family that inspired her story reflect on their journey.

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When Walt Disney Animation Studios began work on The Princess and the Frog in 2006, directors Ron Clements and John Musker went on countless research trips to the iconic Louisiana city. During one of their visits, Clements and Musker met businesswoman and restaurateur Leah Chase, whose story went on to inspire them in the creation of Disney’s now iconic princess movie, in which a young Black woman works to earn enough money to open a restaurant in New Orleans.

Chase, also known as the “Queen of Creole Cuisine”, owned Dooky Chase Restaurant with her husband, former musician Edgar “Dooky” Chase. The couple had inherited the establishment from Edgar’s parents in the 1940s, growing it into a tentpole of New Orleans food culture famed for its role in bringing Creole cooking tradition to the masses and providing a safe-haven for activists during the latter half of the century.

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“[Dooky Chase was] a place of community,” Chase’s granddaughter Myla Poree tells me, “a place where civil rights leaders, educators, entertainers were able to come to strategize on their next steps as we went through the civil rights movement.”

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Upstairs Dining Room at Dooky’s played host to discussions led by Martin Luther King Jr. (his favored dish was barbecued ribs), the Freedom Riders, and James Baldwin (a fan of the Dooky Chase gumbo). Chase is even quoted as saying “I’ve changed the course of America over my bowl of gumbo.”

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While parts of Princess Tiana’s story were left up to creative license — unsurprisingly, Leah Chase and her husband did not get turned into frogs — fans of Disney’s first Black princess will recognize the renowned chef and businesswoman’s values, entrepreneurship, and culinary expertise in the animated character we now know and love. And, as of June 28, evidence of Chase’s legacy can be found in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, too.

Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, a reimagining of the park’s former water flume ride Splash Mountain, follows Tiana as she prepares to host a Mardi Gras celebration at her very own New Orleans restaurant. Fan favorite characters — Prince Naveen, Louis, Mama Odie — can all be seen throughout the 11 minute journey through the bayou, as can a whopping 2,009 fireflies and nods to Leah, her family, and their legacy of community in Louisiana.

Charlie Mock

Below, Poree and Dooky Chase’s current Executive Chef, Edgar “Dook” Chase IV, reflect on their journey with Disney Parks, their grandparents’ legacy, and the highlights of New Orleans cuisine.

How does it feel to see Tiana’s Bayou Adventure come to life?

Myla Poree: It's been four years in the making for the ride, so seeing it all come together this weekend has been amazing.

This ride is as much a reflection of your family as it is Tiana’s. Which detail throughout the ride and in the surrounding Frontierland area stuck out most to you?

Poree: To see the story of our grandparents throughout the ride — from the kitchen that mimicked [our grandmother’s] kitchen, the birthday celebration pictures on the wall, the handwritten recipes — all those small details that sometimes make it past some people, it made us feel so welcome to see that our family tradition, our grandparents’ tradition, is continuing.

Charlie Mock

Edgar Chase IV: You know, it's about community. [You see] the community garden and once you pass that, you see the quote on the tower: “Never ever forget what's really important.” That is the detail. [The ride is] a celebration of people, and bringing people together. That just embodies what my grandparents and their great grandparents told us. The ride is awesome, all the elements of it, but to see [our family’s] story captured — the celebration of people and community — it just hits home as you're riding that ride.

What should visitors to New Orleans try from the menu at Dooky Chase?

Chase: Oh, well, you should try it all. New Orleans and Dooky Chase restaurant is a place of greatness. You know, we have a great gumbo. We have our world famous fried chicken. We have our shrimp creole, our crawfish etouffee, our redfish. It's a celebration of our culture.

Outside of the food, what can guests to your family’s restaurant look forward to?

Chase: When you come sit at our dining room table, we want you to experience our home. We're inviting you inside. So whether you're eating red beans and rice and fried chicken on a Monday or you're celebrating with your family and starting with a bowl of gumbo, or you're finishing a meal with a good old piece of bread pudding, a peach cobbler: just enjoy it. Have fun and celebrate.

Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is now open at Walt Disney World Resort, Florida.