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Disneyland Article
Tianas Palace Is Almost There
Los Angeles Times
Sarah Mosqueda
Tiana’s Palace restaurant at Disneyland Park is “almost there.” As the song from Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “The Princess and the Frog” goes, the new eatery inspired by the 2009 movie is “getting closer and closer every day.” The reimagined quick-service location is set to open on Sept. 7 in the space formerly known as French Market Restaurant. “As you all know, Walt Disney said Disneyland will never be complete as long as there is imagination left in the world,” said Kim Irvine, executive creative director of Walt Disney Imagineering. “We take that very seriously.”

Irvine said her team works hard to ensure the park continues to evolve.

“My role at Disneyland for almost the last 50 years is to make sure we keep adding to Disneyland and recreating and telling the new stories that film industry gives us,” Irvine said.

The Disneyland Resort culinary team performed extensive research on cuisine in the Crescent City in order to create the new menu, which features classics like gumbo and beignets. Media were invited to sample the new menu ahead of the opening at Disneyland Hotel this week.

“We have done several trips to New Orleans and tasted a lot of food,” said Michele Gendreau, director of food and beverage at Disneyland. “I made these guys do 18 restaurants in 2½ days,” she said, motioning to her team.

The food was also influenced by Lindell Skinner, operations manager of food and beverage at Disneyland and a New Orleans native. Skinner is also co-chair of PULSE, which stands for People United to Lead, Serve and Excel.

“Our mission is to enhance the experience for our cast and our guests of African and Caribbean descent,” said Skinner. “PULSE had the opportunity to come in and work with the chefs and work with the team, to really give them feedback.”

Tiana helps her father make gumbo in a special pot in the movie, and at Tiana’s Palace there are a couple different gumbo options. A plant-based seven-greens gumbo features white beans, okra, yams, sweet potatoes and Carolina Gold rice, a yellow-hued heirloom rice grown in South Carolina.

“Carolina Gold is a very specific rice that has this certain texture,” said John State, executive chef at Disneyland. “The rice itself is traced back to West Africa. We are trying to find those ingredients that help tell the story but also add a unique flavor to the dish.”

The plant-based gumbo utilizes a plant-based butter for the roux, which makes for a thinner but still delicious broth. Chicken and andouille sausage can be added as well, although that makes the dish no longer vegan. The house gumbo, however, is a little thicker and spicier, combining braised chicken, andouille sausage and the same heirloom rice, all in one comforting bowl.

“We had nice debate about what type of hot sauce to use here,” said Skinner. “Some people are Crystal fans, some people are Tabasco fans.”

In a diplomatic compromise, chef State said the house gumbo uses both.

The menu offers additional entrees, like Cajun-spice half chicken, brushed with a house-made chicory barbecue sauce served with baked macaroni and cheese and coleslaw. The Gulf shrimp and grits contain plump, grilled shrimp tossed in a creole sauce served over creamy, cheesy grits.

Handheld options include a muffuletta sandwich piled high with mortadella, salami, rosemary ham, cheddar, provolone and a house-made olive relish on toasted New Orleans sesame-seed bread and a beef po-boy sandwich, stuffed with slow-cooked beef in gravy and dressed with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise atop a toasted New Orleans French bread. The bread is one of the most important parts of a true po’boy or muffuletta, so the bread is being sourced from New Orleans.

“The ingredients are critical to tell the story. Sourcing this bread was not an easy task,” said chef State. “We tried to duplicate the bread here and make it ourselves. We also worked with someone local to make it for us, and we just couldn’t get there.”

The bread for the po’boy is light and airy, letting the ingredients on the inside shine, and the muffuletta bread is a round roll resembling a mushroom topped with sesame seeds. Besides the bread, the andouille sausage, sugar cane syrup, gulf shrimp and heirloom rice are all sourced from New Orleans.

Sandwiches are served with red beans and rice and house-made pickles. Other classic sides on the menu include buttermilk cornbread, baked macaroni and cheese, red beans and heirloom rice, coleslaw, cheesy grits and heirloom rice.

Of course, no trip to New Orleans would be complete without beignets. Tiana’s signature “man-catching beignets,” as her friend Lottie call them, get a fun twist at Tiana’s Palace. The house-filled beignets feature a sweet and tart lemon icebox pie filling and are topped with lemon glaze.

“A lemon icebox pie is not something in New Orleans that you are going to find in a commercial restaurant,” said Skinner. “You really have to go into the neighborhoods to find this pie. We are paying homage to that by creating a filling that part of this beignet.”

Guests can wash down dessert with Joffrey’s coffee chicory cold brew, a tradition in New Orleans that is believed to have originated during a coffee shortage when chicory plants were roasted and ground along with coffee beans to stretch the coffee.

The research trips to New Orleans the staff took were similar to the trips Walt Disney took himself when designing New Orleans Square at Disneyland.

“Frontierland and Adventureland actually took up a lot of the space that is now New Orleans,” said Irvine. “He decided he would love to add a New Orleans Square to that part of the park.”

Disney and his art directors, who were also animators, went on a tour of New Orleans. New Orleans Square at Disneyland opened in 1966, modeled after 19th-century New Orleans. Then-mayor of New Orleans Victor H. Schiro attended the dedication ceremony and made Disney an honorary citizen of New Orleans.

“Research is 100% of our job,” said Irvine.

Beside the new menu, the restaurant will have new features like lily-pad-inspired lighting fixtures and, most notably, smoke stacks that emulate the river boat in the movie. Live New Orleans jazz music will be a staple at the new restaurant, as it was at the old one. And there are some other things Gendreau assures won’t change.

“We can’t get rid of the Mickey-shaped beignets, ” Gendreau said, “and Tiana’s recognizes that. She is not going to come in and disrupt the mint julep bar.”

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