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August 23, 2018
Natchez, Mississippi: A Day with Regina Charboneau

On this amazing riverboat adventure, today was one of our most amazing days so far.

Our port today was Natchez, Mississippi, where we would be from 8:00 am until 5:00 pm. In the mid-1800s, Natchez had more millionaires than any other city in the U.S., thanks to the cotton trade. But the city lost its status when the Mississippi riverboats were supplanted by the railroads.

Today we had our first “premium” (paid) excursion, “Inside Regina’s Kitchen.” Regina Charboneau is a world-famous celebrity chef. She opened two restaurants in San Francisco – Regina’s at the Regis and Biscuits & Blues – before returning to her native Natchez. She was once the chef de cuisine for the American Queen. Today she owns the Twin Oaks estate, where she entertains and continues to cook.

AQ’s description of this excursion does not nearly do it justice. We read that we were going to learn the secret of Regina’s famous biscuits. Yes, we did get to watch the making of – and taste – these biscuits. But Regina was the consummate embodiment of Southern hospitality. She gave 20 of us a tour of her home. She cooked us two kinds of pot pies – chicken and crawfish. And she gave us signed copies of her huge and gorgeous hardcover pictorial cookbooks.

Gail was one of the guests who donned an apron and helped Regina make her biscuit dough

But that’s not all. When chatting with us, Regina learned that we were going to take the bus back to the boat, then take a taxi to Longwood Mansion. We hoped we would have enough time to get there. Regina offered to drive us there herself.

Longwood is the largest octagonal house in the United States. Construction began in 1861, then was halted by the Civil War. Only the bottom floor – the cellar – was ever finished. The current owner opened the house to the public under the condition that it never be completed. This house was high up on Gail’s wish list, due in part to our own octagonal house.

Longwood mansion. If it had been finished, that would have been an onion dome on top.

The unfinished interior of Longwood. (Cindy our tour guide is on the left.) The current owner requested that the building never be finished, so that visitors and students could study Civil-War era architectural construction techniques.

Not only did Regina stay through our Longwood tour, she offered to drive us to the other destination on Gail’s Natchez wish list: the local rum distillery. As it turned out, the Charboneau Distillery is owned by Regina’s husband Doug and son Jean-Luc! And the distillery is right next-door to Regina’s current restaurant, King’s Tavern.

King’s Tavern (note the sign out front: “Brisket Flatbread Sold so far: 9638”

Charboneau Distillery, right next door

Doug Charboneau gave us a personal tour himself. He and Jean-Luc didn’t know a thing about rum when they decided to open the distillery four years ago. But for two years in a row, their product has been given the highest rating of any rum in the country – 92 on a scale of 100. We got to taste white rum, gold rum, and rum rouge.

Gail gets a rum tasting with Doug Charboneau

Regina was still around after our distillery tour, and she offered to drive us back to the boat. On the way, she gave us a driving tour of Natchez. We even stopped at historic Stanton Hall, where Regina and one of the local guides took turns giving us another personal tour. (While there, we even ran into the “official” tour from the river boat.)

Stanton Hall, one of Natchez’ historic antebellum (pre-Civil War) houses. It’s currently getting an external facelift. (Many of Natchez' historic buildings are being restored by the Pilgrimage Garden Club, which is dedicated to restoring the city to its former glory. Regina is a member and former president of the club.)

During her driving tour, while Regina was pointing out a house on the left, she accidentally hit a curb on the right, causing a flat tire. Luckily we were right next to the boat stop. We stayed with Regina until help arrived – her restaurant chef actually drove over to help fix her flat. We all laughed about the ridiculous conclusion to our day before parting ways.

We can see why Regina returned to her hometown of Natchez after living in Alaska, Paris and San Francisco. We found the city and its inhabitants to be warm, inviting and genuinely down to earth. Thanks to Regina, we were able to see everything on our Natchez wish list, and more. We will easily remember this port and this day as highlights of our riverboat adventure.

Russell and Gail with Regina and Doug Charboneau


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