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Queen to float again

NATCHEZ — More than 600 tourists could be delivered right to Natchez if one of the locals gets her way.

They’ll also be well fed, she said.

The American Queen, a steamboat that has the capacity to hold 463 passengers and 160 crew members, will hopefully make 25 to 30 stops in Natchez per year when it resumes making trips up and down the Mississippi River in the spring, said Regina Charboneau, a Natchez resident and professional chef who has been chosen as the chef de cuisine of the boat.

The chef de cuisine is in charge of overseeing the quality of the food, she said, which entails creating recipes, as well as ideas and standards for them. Charboneau won’t be on board cooking.

And for Charboneau, part of that includes being mindful of including local ingredients, not just “Southern” ingredients.

For example, she said, she’s been thinking of food you’d find along the river, like corn, wild rice, river shrimp, yams and catfish.

“I’ve always been a big advocate of sustainable seafood,” she said. “I’m also a big advocate of organic produce.”

But just as importantly, she said, she’s been “big time” pushing for frequent stops in Natchez.

The American Queen, which is owned by The Great American Steamboat Company and docked in Memphis, has been out of commission for the past few years after being built in 1995, and Charboneau said she’d hoped to have its home port be in Natchez, but now she’ll be happy just to have it visit.

And since her job doesn’t mandate that she travel the length of the Mississippi with the crew, she said, she has an inkling they’ll have some incentive to want to stop pretty frequently.

“I’m hoping Natchez will put its best foot forward to roll out the red carpet,” Charboneau said. “When boats used to come in, people were down (Under-the-Hill) welcoming them, and I really want to see that hospitality again, to really show them the Natchez that we all really know and love.”

Charboneau said the schedule for the American Queen should be available on greatamericansteamboatcompany.com in mid-September, and she’s already gearing up to go on a press tour, which includes stops in New York, Chicago, Miami and San Francisco.

“We will all do a press tour, but I will be staying on land, and that’s why I want (the boat) to come to Natchez as often as possible, so I can go (onboard) and meet with the chef and not have to leave home.

“It’s a win-win. I get to share my expertise and my Southern food knowledge with them, I get to stay home, and I get the boat to Natchez a bunch of times.”

With so many passengers coming ashore, she said, it would make a “huge economic impact.”

“I wouldn’t necessarily be looking to be involved with anything like this in this stage of my life, except this is an amazing group of people to be involved with,” she said. “And it’s a way to get people down in the streets of Natchez again.”