Disney’s #CelebrateSoulfully initiative began out of the necessity to provide its guests of color with culturally specific experiences within its theme parks and beyond. Their latest release is a line of Princess Tiana merchandise. From the company that brought fans The Lion King, the Tiana collection includes an array of kitchenware and apparel and marks the first time Princess Tiana will have her own festival merchandise line. To commemorate the release, Disney enlisted the help of Top Chef favorite and famed Chef Carla Hall to mix and mingle with Black journalists while dining at numerous eateries across its parks and resorts. The food and drink at each spot hit are inspired by Black stories worldwide.
Over five days, media were treated to an itinerary of dining and entertainment, equipped with menu items and presentations from the talented chefs who prepared them. Showbiz spoke with Hall on the partnership, the importance of good food for patrons, and what she hopes comes next through the magic of Disney.
Disney approached Carla Hall to helm the Celebrate Soulfully food tour experience
To honor the release of Princess Tiana’s first official merchandise line, the company wanted a creative way to incorporate the theme of southern cuisine immersed in the princess film and the event series. The merchandise line is Princess Tiana branded cookware. They contacted Hall to discuss a special food tour targeted to Black audiences.
“They said that they were doing an event and celebrating the new line of merchandise for Princess Tiana. And I was like, ‘Wow.’ And then, honestly, it just got deeper and deeper, and to know they were going to do this soul food tour with Black journalists. And I was like, ‘Wait, what?’ I mean, honestly, I was amazed and happy and excited because it hadn’t been done before,” she told us in an interview.
“I’ve been coming here probably for about eight years. It has gone from being like a chocolate chip cookie to something just very diverse and seeing all the diversity, the diversity that I see at the park,” she added. “And to actually see people who look like me and to celebrate a character who looks like me and to celebrate the thing that I think we how we pass on our culture, which is through food, that should be celebrated.”
She says having culturally specific food for Black patrons adds to the diversity and inclusion efforts
Like any theme park, guests can chow down on fun treats like funnel cakes, and frozen snacks, and get a quick hotdog or burger throughout their day. But Hall says Disney incorporating actual menu items that speak to its diverse audience is key.
Patrons can dine on soul food items ranging from fried chicken at Homecoming at the likes of At Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’: Florida Kitchen and Southern Shine at Disney Springs, or cajun cuisine with New Orleans flare in Scat Cat’s Club at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter. There’s something for everyone.
“It’s really important that you can go on a ride or have an experience in the park and then come together around food that you might have at home as a family and discuss your day,” Hall said. “That’s very much a part of how our kitchens work and how our homes work, and how the fellowship and sharing works in our community. It just magnifies that experience and why they want to come back.”
The celebrity chef says she’s looking to continue her work with Disney post the food extravaganza
While this event was the first of its kind, Hall hopes it’s not the last, and especially not the last one for her. She wants to expose her family and friends to what Disney has to offer, as well as enjoy the luxury experiences Disney has.
“I have come back [and forth to Disney] and am a fan of that luxury experience. And I also want to bring my family,” she said. “So I see that there are so many things that I can bring them to. It’s one thing to bring my young nieces here. I think the next thing that I want to work on is bringing some of my Black friends here.”