Katie-Rose Watson dreams of Disney dinners. She dreams of dalmatian-spotted tablecloths, projected fireworks above her dinner table, and spooky, smoking dry ice–infused cocktails. Once upon a time, she dreamed she would host a year-long series of Disney-themed dinner parties for adults, one for every month, each based on a different movie. The Dallas-based food blogger’s fairy-tale ending brought her a level of social media stardom, and the 2021 version of an influencer’s happily ever after: paid partnerships with Facebook and Disney.
Watson, who blogs as The Rose Table on the side (her day job is working as an independent publicist), is bustling around her Rockwall kitchen on a Saturday evening in June, wearing red high heels and a black spaghetti-strap dress underneath a ruffly gingham apron. She’s “Disneybounding”—the fandom’s word for dressing in the spirit of a Disney character without wearing an overt costume, as in cosplay—as Cruella de Vil for this evening’s 101 Dalmatians dinner party. Her dinners are for invited guests only, and tonight that includes me. They’re one part soiree, one part content gathering mission, so she can share the results with her blog readers (a.k.a. “Rosies”). At the moment, she’s simultaneously taking food prep photos with her phone, stirring a pan of orzo, and pressing her friends into helping take photos for the blog.
Her modest dining room is arranged with a black-and-white spotted tablecloth, red napkins cinched with bone-shaped metal dog tags imprinted with “The Rose Table,” red floral arrangements with dog collars fastened around their vases, and a bowl of homemade dog treats for guests with pups to take home. The menu includes a salad homage to 101 Dalmatians’ canines Pongo and Perdita (bone-shaped crackers and blueberries for “spots”), seared and baked chicken thighs atop a creamy orzo (with black sesame seeds, again for spots), and a “DeVil’s Food Cake Trifle,” a nod to Cruella. It’s a sophisticated take on a party theme one might typically only associate with kid stuff.
“I’m going to shoot the pasta separately, and then we’ll put the chicken on top of the pasta, and I’m going to shoot it. And then we’re going to bring the plates out and I’ll plate, just because we want options,” she chirps, and an ensemble of erstwhile dinner guests turned production assistants kicks into gear—lighting candles, arranging ring lights, and helping get B-roll of the dining room decor and each thoughtfully plated dish. They hype her up, singing as they go, like the group of longtime theater buddies they are. Watson moves around her ten-by-twelve-foot dining room: “That looks so juicy!” “Work with me, chicken, work with me!” “Give me sassy-chicken.”
By this point, having thrown nineteen Disney dinners (with Sleeping Beauty, Cars, and Mulan themes, among others) starting in 2018 and dozens of other blogged events since 2014, the 32-year-old Watson has this process down pat. It seems a little unbelievable, given all the work that goes into recipe testing, filming, and postproduction for her blogged dinner parties, but she insists this is how she relaxes. “PR is like a sixteen-hour-a-day job, and once a week, I would have people over and cook them a nice meal and listen to jazz and feel like a human, and that was the basis for the Rose Table,” she says. It’s a hobby that has paid off. Her blog partners occasionally sponsor posts, and though she won’t disclose specific numbers, she says her earnings far outpace her expenses for food and decor.
Watson has no formal culinary training but has always enjoyed experimenting with recipes, tweaking them to make them her own. Her criterion for a Disney dish is that it be inspired somehow by a particular character or movie location, like the black-tinted horn-shaped bread cones with spinach dip that resemble Angelina Jolie’s headpiece in Maleficent. Watson says she won’t put a recipe on her blog if it isn’t excellent, and she often eats the same dish for a month in an effort to get it just right. To prep, she watches the films and makes notes on memorable lines and foods that appear on camera. The featured cocktail for the Dalmatians event, a Bloomin’ Hero, is named for a line spoken by the film’s nanny. It features Pimm’s liqueur, because England.
Watson lives with her Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Henry, just a few minutes’ drive from her parents, who are enthusiastic Rose Table coconspirators and recipe testers (for this Dalmatians dinner, her mother helped her film a teaser video for her blog in which she saucily exits a neighbor’s classic car à la Cruella). Having experimented with recipes as early as her teen years (she once blew up a Pyrex dish boiling water in it on the stovetop), Watson says she loved hosting humble dinner parties to celebrate the Oscars and other events in college at Texas Christian University, using whatever she had on hand to make the occasion feel special, even if it was just a $4 spool of ribbon to spruce up a table setting. She carries that same make-do spirit to her massively popular blog, using everyday items from colored lightbulbs to tissue-paper flowers to reinvent her dining area.
“A lot of millennials, we just want to live in the nineties forever, which is like Renaissance Disney,” she says, referring to the period from 1989 to 1999, when Disney released movies Aladdin, The Lion King, and The Little Mermaid, a time that happens to coincide with her childhood years. She remembers childhood moments when her mom, Buzz Watson, “would always grab my arm at some point on every single vacation and say, ‘Can you imagine—this [day] would have just been a [regular] Tuesday?’ I feel like Disney really encompasses that idea of turning everyday moments into magic, and that’s really what I believe in.”
That message resonates with her fellow Disney fans, especially on Facebook, where she has over one hundred thousand followers who fawn over her posted photos and recipes. As followers piled up during Watson’s year of Disney dinners in 2018, folks at Facebook took notice of her high level of audience engagement and offered her a contract to produce one video per week. Over on TikTok, a video on her deconstructed Alice in Wonderland tea party fare, including grilled balsamic-marinated grapes, earned more than half a million views. Readers started reaching out, tagging her in photos of dinners they’d recreated using her recipes and styling ideas. “I would pay so much money to go to one of these,” one fan wrote on TikTok in response to Watson’s Peter Pan dinner video. (Watson doesn’t anticipate opening the dinners beyond her circle of invited friends, but her audience always looms like an invisible extra guest at the table).
After finishing her initial series of twelve dinners, which proved to be an exhausting experiment, Watson hosted a big Cinderella ball–style “wrap party” in January 2019, intending to give herself a break from Disney for a while. “Then Disney called me in February, and they were like, ‘Where was your Disney dinner this month?’ And I was like, ‘You know about those?’” The company ended up sponsoring three themed dinners corresponding with movie releases: Mary Poppins Returns, Captain Marvel, and Maleficent. The day of the phone call “was the best day of my life,” says Watson.
During the 101 Dalmatians dinner, talk shifts toward memorable highlights of previous meals, as if the troupe is recalling old theater productions. Someone’s hair caught fire during the Pirates of the Caribbean dinner (this made the Rose Table blooper reel), and that was also the night a pre-dinner rum tasting got a little too hearty. “There is no footage that is usable after 9 p.m.,” says Watson of that evening. Jason Bias, who is Disneybounding tonight with his wife Rebecca as Roger and Anita (the human couple in Dalmatians), randomly hums the “Cruella De Vil” theme song. Rebecca purrs, “Anita Dah-ling.”
It was Jason who urged Watson to continue with her Disney dinners even as she took the highest social distancing precautions during the pandemic. He and his wife were supposed to have attended her Tangled dinner, initially planned for March 2020 (menu: frying-pan chicken, braided bread with honey butter, and chocolate chip cookie cheesecake—because Rapunzel bakes chocolate chip cookies at the beginning of the movie). “He said, ‘You should do Tangled anyway,’” Watson says, “and I was like, ‘What do you mean, we’re in a severe lockdown!’ And he said, ‘So was Rapunzel.’ I have chills just thinking about it—she was locked in a tower for eighteen years. That’s the ultimate quarantine.’”
Watson’s Tangled chicken recipe, filmed in isolation—albeit with a place setting for six as usual for posterity—is now legendary among her Rosies, and the Biases make the recipe on the regular. The chicken thighs are seasoned and fried, then baked in the oven in the same frying pan (cue the movie quote: “Frying pans—who knew, right?”) and served with the drippings. “That’s the only way we make chicken,” says Jason. [I had to try the recipe myself, and I was surprised by how well it turned out on the first attempt.]
As the Dalmatians dinner comes to a close, the friends around the table mull over future Disney dinner themes—Little Mermaid? But how to make the menu not about consuming Ariel’s friends? “It’s so obvious, it’s right there in front of me,” says Watson. “Grilled octopus. You can eat Ursula!” Everyone cheers.