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When the creators of Disney's 'Princess and the Frog' came to New Orleans in search of inspiration for their character Princess Tiana, locals pointed them into the direction of 87-year-old Leah Chase. The Creole chef known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine got to talking about her Louisiana upbringing, love for cooking and aspirations as a child to own her own restaurant. Never did she imagine that her life story would go on to inspire Disney to base their first black princess character on her; yet it did just that.

As hundreds of thousands of little girls poured out of movie theaters across the country, they walked away uplifted by a belief lived by her whole life, 'You can accomplish anything you put your mind to.' Chase may not be a household name outside of New Orleans, but her real life dreams, passions and accomplishments are in the hearts of any person who watches the film or buys 'Princess and the Frog: Tiana's Cookbook,' which Chase contributed to.

After getting the chance to catch up with the fun spirited chef, it was easy to see why Disney became enamored with her real life Princess Tiana story and it's clear that when it comes to inspiring others, Chase is nowhere close to being finished.

How do you feel about being the inspiration behind this character?
I feel so grateful for that because I thought that was the nicest thing I've ever heard of. We've had these characters before and people like them but you can always feel good about yourself when you see somebody like you sometimes. That's what little black girls can see now; they can see a little black princess and that's uplifting for them. I have little girls who come and say "I want to be a cook just like you." It's beautiful how it has inspired a lot of little African-American girls. It got them thinking, "If I want a restaurant, if I want to cook, I can do that and I will do that." They know it's hard work and they know it's what you have to do to accomplish goals. I'm happy for that little movie. It really inspired a whole lot of people and it uplifted people-that is the most important thing to me-it uplifts people. It's just so beautiful.

Did the movie inspire you to create the recipes for the 'Princess and the Frog: Tiana's Cookbook'?
The movie inspired me to do more things, but I had all the recipes before. You know when you've been working in the kitchen as long as I've been-60 some years-you learn new things all the time and start from scratch. You start from what your mother teaches you and then if you like something you say you tweak it. Like if you meet people with other cultures and they talk about their food then you get ideas and you say, "That's nice but I'll do it my way." We call it 'Creolizing" everybody's idea. It's fun doing that.

Who has influenced your cooking the most?
I'll tell you that when I went to go work in this restaurant I knew how to cook because everyone that comes up in a home like I do is going to learn to cook whatever their mother cooks. So it was my mother and my mother-in-law was a good cook so you learn all kinds of things from the people around you.

How would you describe your cooking?
For any chef, you cook the food that is you and what you're all about, and if people want to eat what I'm all about they come to me. If they want to eat Italian food and what other people are all about they go to other restaurants. I do down home cooking and just cooking that you would find in any kitchen and any home and people like that, so they come and eat it and enjoy it. It's good comfort food.

You've accomplished so much so far, what are your future goals?
You accomplish whatever you set your goals to. I never said I want to be this or I want to be that. Everyday I just do the things I like to do. I like to cook, I like to create new foods, I like to meet people and I like to feed people so that's what I do. If you do what you like and you do it well and you always have other people in mind, then you can succeed. It's never about you; it's about what you can do for somebody else. When I was coming up we were poor and didn't have much, but my Daddy gave us three things to live by: pray, work and do for others, but you had to do those three things in that order according to him. I found that all my life those three principles worked for me and I think it can work for anybody. [SOURCE]

The Woman Behind Disney's Landmark Princess
It would be a stretch to say that a movie about a woman turning into a frog is based on a true story. But even fairy tales can find inspiration from truth, and if you want to meet the real-life woman behind The Princess and the Frog 's Tiana, look no further than Leah Chase. Born in 1923, Chase is the kitchen wizard behind New Orleans' staple restaurant Dooky Chase. "My first job in New Orleans was working as a waitress at a restaurant. That was the 1940s, when it was almost unheard of for a young black girl, a so-called Creole of Color, to go and work in the French Quarter. That was a no-no," she says. "But I loved it. You see, it was segregation, and I had never seen the inside of a restaurant in my life. ... I loved waiting on people. I loved seeing people eat. And if you like that, you're going to go further."

In 1944, Chase met her husband, Dooky, whose parents ran a small sandwich shop. "I just made it grow. Did what I like to do," she says. "Stumbled a lot, but that's what life's all about. You just stumble and keep going."

When Disney creators were looking for a story to inspire their new animated film about an African-American princess in New Orleans, it was easy for them to find Chase. "When you do a lot of work in your community, you become known, so somebody probably referred [Disney] to me, and I'm so happy about that," she says. "Now everybody wants to be Tiana. I think it's fantastic. When I came up, being a cook was nothing. It's just lately that we have chefs coming into their own. Back then, people would look at you, especially if you were a black woman, and say: 'Oh, you just a cook. That's it.' But now, being a chef is It." [READ MORE]

Meet Leah Chase, New Orleans restaurateur and the woman who inspired Tiana, Disney's newest princess
Leah Chase had no idea that her life was about to become inspiration for a movie when some men dropped by her restaurant in New Orleans and asked to speak with her.

"If you come to New Orleans, and you ask people, 'Where can I learn about the black community,' they always send them to me. I've been on this corner for 60-something years," Chase says about her restaurant, Dooky Chase. "All they wanted to do was talk, and they talked to me and I told them about my life.
"I had no idea they would really use it."

Chase became Tiana, the eventual princess in Disney's The Princess and the Frog, which was released Tuesday on DVD. "The whole little movie was wonderful," she says. "Little girls need to be uplifted, and I thought that was an uplifting thing for black girls. Little girls see it, and they say, 'I want to be like you. I want to be a cook.' They all sit there until they see all the names and when they see mine, they just clap.

"If you can make someone happy, that's the best thing you can do." The 87-year-old cook is just as animated as her avatar, and her story, for anyone who has seen the movie, will be familiar.

"I started as a waitress, trying to save my tips, and I always wanted a restaurant," she says. "I had no way of getting them. But I was lucky enough to marry a man whose mother had a sandwich shop, where you bought little chicken and oysters and stuff like that. When I came in here, I had to make it look like the other side of town."

The other side of town was full of big restaurants with fancy clientele. She's succeeded. Dooky Chase is a tourist stop with a collection of artwork on the walls. ("I learned that art does not have to match the sofa," says Chase. "It just has to talk to you.") And behind everything is a story, or food.

Disney sells Tiana's Cookbook: Recipes for Kids that is inspired by the film and Chase, who has written a few books of her own. "The gumbo recipe is mine," she says. "And it's a fun little gumbo recipe. I did it where children could do it.

"That's the thing Mama Odie [an old swamp voodoo priestess] does in the movie. What she does to it, I don't do. She puts some hot stuff in it." And there might be another book in her future, too. "I'd better move on it pretty fast," she says and laughs. "I guess I must think I'm about to grow to be 100." READ about Dooky Chase Restaurant, Sunday in Travel, out next week [SOURCE]


Sorry the flash is in her face! Taken from Dooky Chase, New Orleans. Leah Chase was the real inspiration for Princess Tiana!


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