I am a Disney girl and everyone knows it. So when the studio announced its intention to release a film with an African American princess, who also happens to be an aspiring chef, I couldn’t have been more excited. I raced to the theater for opening weekend, though I must admit sensing a dark cloud of dread hovering over me as I anticipated the complaints of internet reviewers, and braced for more stereotypes of African American cooks.
After all, this is the same studio that embedded subtle racism in Dumbo and the Jungle Book. And, in the 1950s, Disneyland promoted the Aunt Jemima trademark in its popular restaurant, Aunt Jemima’s Pancake House. Over the years, I was able to overlook those as flaws in a machine that bowed to the social and cultural pressures of its time. But in these “post-racial times, I wondered how they would deal with the New Orleans of 1920 and the limited career options for women of color.
Despite some age-old characterizations about the south and the kitchen in the storyline, critics are gushing, movie-goers pushed the movie to the top of the weekend box-office, and I found the film to be a charming mix of fact and fantasy.
To my surprise, Tiana possesses several of the qualities of the women who will be featured in this journal: she is hard-working with culinary proficiency that is seductive and in high-demand; she has entreprenurial ambitions and skills; she is focused and determined, not waiting around to be rescued by Prince Charming; she is prudent, saving her pennies for a long-term goal (Tiana’s restaurant), she has a very popular cookbook; makes a mean pot of gumbo, and she works selflessly at times to promote the greater good.
Too bad she also is the first Disney princess to spend most of her screen time as an amphibian.
It was also difficult to embrace the image of poverty reflected in Princess Tiana’s Cookbook for children. The book has been sold out for weeks at the Disney store where I live, but her father’s famous recipe for gumbo is posted on Amazon. Unfortunately, the recipe perpetuates the same make-do stereotype of African American cooking that has been promoted for years with its wieners in the mix.
We’ll serve this gumbo over the holidays, instead.
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne red pepper
- 1 (3- to 4-pound) chicken, cut up
- 1 tablespoon each butter and oil
- 1 1/2 cups chopped onions
- 1/4 cup chopped green onions
- 1 cup chopped green bell peppers
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 pound smoked sausage, sliced
- 2 quarts chicken broth
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
- Hot cooked rice
- Place flour in a cast-iron skillet in a 400 degree oven until the flour turns nut-brown, stirring often. Combine seasonings and sprinkle chicken pieces on both sides. Heat butter and oil in a heavy Dutch oven or soup pot. Add a few chicken pieces to the pan cook over medium-high heat until brown. Turn and cook on other side. Do not crowd the pan. Continue cooking and turning chicken until all pieces are done. Remove to a platter and set aside. Add onions, bell peppers, celery and garlic to pan, and cook over medium heat, stirring to loosen browned bits. Add sausage to pan and increase heat to high. Saute 5 minutes longer, until vegetables are slightly browned and carmelized. Meanwhile, place browned flour in a medium-sized bowl. Gradually whisk in 2 cups broth, stirring until flour is completely dissolved and no lumps remain. Add to vegetables along with remaining 6 cups broth and bay leaves. Reduce heat and let gumbo simmer 45 minutes. Do not boil. Use a slotted spoon to remove chicken from pot. Let cool slightly, then remove chicken from the bone and cut into bite-sized chunks. Remove and discard bay leaf. Return chicken to pan, sprinkle with parsely and season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Serve over hot cooked rice.
Number of servings: 12