Disney's New Ride, Tiana's Bayou Adventure, Takes Inspiration From A Real Life Chef

After closing down the controversial Splash Mountain log flume in 2023 (the ride was themed after characters from Disney's "Song of the South," which was set on a plantation during the Reconstruction era), Disney World has debuted a newly revamped attraction based on the film "The Princess and The Frog." We had the chance to preview the ride, Tiana's Bayou Adventure; speak to one of the Imagineers who helped create it about the important role Creole cuisine and cooking serves; and ask Edgar "Dook" Chase IV from Dooky Chase's Restaurant (which "Princess and the Frog" took inspiration from) a few questions about the ride, the film, and how well Disney was able to adapt and build upon his grandmother Leah Chase's story.

The ride catches up with Princess Tiana, who — after finding success with her restaurant, the opening of which is central to the film's plot — has gone on to create a culinary empire with her new business, "Tiana's Foods." While waiting in the queue, you will see myriad references to New Orleans cuisine and Tiana's culinary journey, which was inspired by real life chef, Leah Chase.

The line for Tiana's Bayou Adventure features a ton of hidden refrences

One of the first rooms you walk into includes an office set-up, complete with a small chair for workers' children to sit in and spend time with the princess. Chase gave us some insight to the possible inspiration for this space, sharing his grandmother had a "command center" in the restaurant kitchen. "As she got older, it was the table between the prep kitchen and the line kitchen, and she would look around and see everything and make sure we were getting it right." It was also here the chef would invite customers and friends to visit, as well as teach the family how to keep things running smoothly. "We grew up in the kitchen, grew up in the restaurant folding napkins, shining silverware," explained Chase.

And the details go beyond the Chase family legacy, with executive creative director at Walt Disney Imagineering Ted Robledo explaining that they created a rich lore for Tiana's Foods. While waiting to board the ride, you'll see jars and bottles lining the wall, featuring the various goods the imagined company would sell. There are even references to the fact that they are canned on site.

Food plays an important role in both the film and the ride

Moving through the line, you'll see signs referencing the fact that the warehouse and production facility is located in a former salt mine, and visit the "test kitchen," which includes touches like the beignets from the film — which appear to be freshly made — piled high next to a beignet recipe card and a jar of honey. Even the kitchen tools tell a story, with a gumbo pot nestled under the table that resembles the one featured in the movie when a young Tiana and her father are cooking for their neighbors.

The ride also takes inspiration from New Orleans history, imagining what Tiana would be like as a successful businesswoman. "We as a team learned the idea of cooperatives really surged in the early 20th century. And it was just ... a sort of way to empower a lot of people that were disenfranchised during earlier parts in American history, and that is part of that tradition and that history of the region," Robledo shared. "We thought it was important to sort of showcase here because she doesn't seem like the kind of person who's going to be successful and just keep building her own wealth. She seems like the kind of person that wants to give back. ... That connection to community and serving community was something we learned was an inspiration to Leah Chase."

Chef Leah Chase's legacy continues today

If visitors to Disney are wondering how authentic the ride and film are to chef Leah Chase's legacy and Creole cooking, they can rest assured both have the family's stamp of approval. When asked if there was anything important he felt was left out, Dook Chase explained, "No I love it all, I love the story, I love what it represents. ... That film is about a strong woman, confidence, resilience, working hard, and you can achieve the top." The family sees a lot of chef Leah Chase in the princess' character, stating "that 'never ever forget what's really important,' I see that coming from her. I see that coming out of her mouth ... because that truly is what is important to our family, making sure the community is right. If everybody is good, we have no choice but to be good."

Dooky Chase's Restaurant was also given the opportunity to expand its culinary empire a bit with the ride, selling its spice blends and cookbooks in the gift shop. "This is huge. To have this showcase of the hard work of my grandparents and the ones that came before us, and really showcase it on such a level that Disney has given us with this opportunity, it means the world to us," shared Chase. "I am very humbled and grateful that Disney allowed us to do this and showcase this amazing woman."

Who is chef Leah Chase?

If you're familiar with Disney's "The Princess and the Frog" but unaware of the person who inspired much of Tiana's story, you're missing out on a remarkable woman. Known as the "Queen of Creole Cuisine," Leah Chase started her professional culinary journey as a waitress in New Orleans' French Quarter. After marrying musician Edgar "Dooky" Chase Jr., she began helping run the family business. At the time, the eatery was a sandwich shop that specalized in po'boys (which can still be found on the restaurant's lunch menu today). Eventually the Chases built the small business into a fine dining restaurant that — thanks to their community activism, fantastic food, and gracious hospitality — became a neighborhood staple.

Mrs. Chase was known for her dedication to her community, with her grandson, Dook Chase, sharing "her work ethic, her love of people, her love of community, it's been unmatched." The restaurant was central to New Orleans' Civil Rights Movement, defying segregation laws by hosting integrated meetings and celebrations. Figures such as Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr., and Ray Charles are known to have visited the restaurant for a taste of Mrs. Chase's cooking, Mr. Chase's jazz music, and thought-provoking conversations.

Chef Leah Chase's culinary legacy lives on at Dooky Chase's Restaurant, where her grandson has taken up her role as executive chef. Not only does the restaurant serve up her classic Creole recipes, but it continues to put the community first. "That's what we aspire to, that's what gives me the passion," he explained. "There are very few industries that touch people the way food does. [It] brings us all together, it unites us all."