Partnering with America's Test Kitchen also gives opportunities for recipe development, storytelling, cooking demonstrations, hands-on experiences, theme cruises and, for AQV's culinary team, professional enhancement.
'American Queen Voyages is going to benefit a hundred ways from this partnership,' predicted the noted chef and cookbook author Regina Charboneau, AQV's culinary ambassador.
Charboneau and D'Aoust were at America's Test Kitchen in Boston Wednesday, brainstorming with ATK's co-hosts, Julia Collin Davison and Bridget Lancaster, and Jack Bishop, chief creative officer.
Besides its cooking shows, ATK publishes popular magazines and cookbooks and has an online cooking school.
Bringing to life the story of American food
'We are at heart an education company,' Bishop said. 'Our mission is to inspire people to be more successful in their home kitchens.' With AQV, there's a 'great synergy in the way our brands think about education and storytelling and bringing to life the story of American food, something we are really passionate about.'
This matches D'Aoust's desire for AQV to 'get closer to our destinations' and deliver a 'more authentic' culinary program. 'We're looking at each destination, finding that special story and telling it through food,' she said.
Charboneau is known for connecting her recipes with a story. She spent last year traveling on the paddlewheelers, combing the river towns for their distinctive breweries, distilleries, donut shops, bakeries and dive bars.
Cape Girardeau in Missouri, for one, was full of surprises. She discovered a little kombucha brewery and, two doors down from a tattoo parlor, a 'very earth mother restaurant where the 10 children each have a job. There's a baker and a butcher, and the food is amazing.' A chef from Milan married someone from Cape Girardeau and runs two fabulous restaurants there.
Along the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest, Charboneau uncovered ingredients for a new twist on New Orleans' Sazerac cocktail (whiskey with bitters and absinthe). She sourced orange bitters to replace the Angostura bitters, absinthe in Astoria, Oregon, and, elsewhere, a local rye whiskey.
'Everywhere I went, as I do in my whole life, I go out and search for the food and the story,' Charboneau said. 'Those kinds of experiences to bring onboard to the guests and share, that's all right up [ATK's] alley ... We are so lucky to be affiliated because they bring so much to the table.
AQV travelers who aren't familiar with the show may 'buy a new product we recommend and say, wow, that was the best vegetable peeler, or make a new recipe and say wow, that was the best brownie recipe I've ever made,' Bishop said.
When D'Aoust mentioned upgrading AQV's mixology experience, Bishop chimed in that ATK has a 10-person mixology team that's tested every cocktail shaker and knows the science of making large, clear ice cubes. This kind of expertise can enhance what the vessels offer.
'I learn from ATK all the time,' Charboneau said. 'When I research, they are my go-to ... They are a resource for anyone at any level in the culinary world, whether you're a home cook or a professional cook.'
According to Angela Composto, VP marketing, AQV aligns 'very well with ATK's mission of reaching new audiences and giving tremendous content for existing audiences. This will enrich the guests that we already have with new and exciting culinary experiences. It will also bring us new audiences.'
The show averages 2.5m weekly viewers (Nielsen, 2021).
New season, new menu
AQV's 2023 season kicks off Feb. 13 when D'Aoust hosts her first President's Cruise aboard the American Queen steamboat from New Orleans. Charboneau and company founder John Waggoner will be along, too.
It will be the first chance for travelers to taste AQV's new menu. It was developed before the ATK partnership and may evolve as a result.
Charboneau, who was first associated with American Queen at its founding a decade ago, said tastes have changed.
'Because of shows like ATK, people are more knowledgeable about food. Their demands are higher,' she said, adding that when sailing in the US heartland, they don't expect the same food they'd get on a fjords cruise in Europe.
'People travel to have the full experience and they want the culinary aspect to fit in. It's such an integral part,' she continued. 'Food is more and more important to the guest experience.'
Plant-based and gluten-free
Also, people are looking to eat healthier, and plant-based diets and gluten-free foods are trending.
American Queen's new menu includes vegan options (for example, a carrot 'hot dog' with chili sauce is a fun twist), with Charboneau rethinking traditional Mississippi and Louisiana dishes so vegans can 'feel like [they're] getting the history and cultural experiences like everyone else at the table.'