Friday, December 25, 2009

What do princesses eat?

"The Princess and the Frog" is a great fairy tale. The characters include the beautiful young Tiana (a girl with a dream), her hard-working parents, an evil New Orleans voodoo man, cajun fireflies, a jazz-playing alligator, a handsome prince, and magical Mamma Odie who can reverse an evil spell and ensure that Tiana becomes a princess. A complete fairy tale -- visually, musically, and magically. AND a culinary fable as well.

Tiana's dream -- to have a splendid and successful restaurant in the best part of New Orleans. At the very beginning of the movie, as a very tiny child, she cooks gumbo for her parents, and seasons it perfectly -- with Tabasco sauce!

After the brief introduction, we jump forward in time and she's a young woman, working overtime in a restaurant and saving money to buy a decrepit waterfront building where she imagines creating her restaurant. Reality is harsh -- she seems to have little chance to succeed. But she imagines cooking etouffee, gumbo, jambalaya, and all kinds of New Orleans dream food for people from all over, and imagines (in beautiful jazz-age imagery) the atmosphere of her wonderful restaurant.

But this is a fairy tale! A handsome though penniless prince arrives on a luxury liner, just in time for a big Mardi Gras party. Her first challenge: to make hundreds of beignets for her rich friend's party. Of course the movie then presents a great adventure -- lots of magic, voodoo, danger, characters of all species from human down to firefly, and comic action. For me, the emphasis on lots of New Orleans food and cooking is what makes it most special of all.

Disney is up to his usual tricks. Of course there's lots of merchandise for sale -- even a cookbook.

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