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Holland America Unveils New PBS Partnership With America's Test Kitchen

September 20, 2016 By: Susan Young

Holland America's Culinary Arts Centers will become America's Test Kitchens, starting in October on Westerdam and November on Nieuw Amsterdam. // Photo courtesy of Holland America Line

Holland America Line has launched a new partnership with America’s Test Kitchen (ATK), the long-running PBS how-to-cook show that airs on more than 350 public television stations, to bring new dynamic cooking instruction onboard its ships.

The premium line's Culinary Arts Centers will be transformed into America’s Test Kitchen and offer guests a new portfolio of onboard cooking demonstrations and workshops. The initiative was announced today by Holland America Line's President Orlando Ashford at a press conference at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York.

ATK demonstration courses and workshops will begin October 18 onboard Westerdam just in time for the ship’s Mexico season. The program will also roll out on Nieuw Amsterdam November 13 as it begins its Caribbean season. The program is expected to roll out fleet-wide by June 2017.

The Culinary Arts Centers will be transformed into ATK facilities that incorporate video, signage, ATK magazines and ATK books, as well as all new pots, pans, mixers, blenders, chef’s knives, cutting boards and other element reflecting the branding. But it’s more than that.

Hardware-wise, “we’re investing in the venue so the [Culinary Arts Centers] look like the TV show,” says Orlando Ashford, the line’s president, who spoke to Travel Agent one-on-one earlier this week. “We’re reconstructing the space so it looks like the set." Changes will occur during upcoming drydocks.

An artist's rendering of America's Test Kitchen at sea on Holland America // Photo by Holland America

On land, America’s Test Kitchen is a fully equipped, 2,500-square-foot test kitchen located in Brookline, Massachusetts. A team of more than 50 highly qualified test cooks perform thousands of tests every year. The goal? ATK seeks to develop the best recipes and cooking techniques, to review and rate the best cookware and equipment, and to taste-test and recommend brand-name supermarket ingredients for home cooks.

Recipes are tested 30, 40 and sometimes as many as 70 times to arrive at the combination of ingredients, technique, temperature, cooking time and equipment that yields the best, most foolproof recipe. 

America's Test Kitchen is well-known to PBS viewers. // Image courtesy of Holland America

Recipes and reviews are published in two magazines, Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country, in a growing line of cookbooks and special interest magazines, and on the ATK websites and through an instructional online Cooking School. They also are featured on two PBS series: "America’s Test Kitchen" and "Cook’s Country."

Under the new concept, shipboard shows in the former Culinary Arts Center (renamed America’s Test Kitchen) will be hosted by Holland America Line chefs who are trained by ATK culinary experts. Shipboard cooking demonstrations and hands-on workshops — with topics ranging from shaping Asian dumplings to making the perfect pie crust — will combine what the line calls foolproof, accessible recipes and cooking techniques rooted in rigorous testing and the science-based ATK approach.

Holland America Line guests also will experience 24-hour access to episodes of America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country television programs in their staterooms. On TV, the line will become a sponsor the PBS television series.

Evolving Culinary Scene

Ashford stresses that culinary offerings have evolved across the decades – from great cuisine to celebrity chefs to choices of restaurants and more flexibility in dining. The latest trend is “hands on,” and the line’s current culinary classes are full, he said. America’s Test Kitchen is simply “elevating the classes and it’s a trend we’re investing in,” Ashford says.

Holland America is seeking to satisfy new cruisers and loyal past guests. // Photo of Nieuw Amsterdam by Holland America

As the industry focuses on personalization and customization, the new culinary approach will allow guests to do what they like and what they enjoy, he emphasizes: “These people want to participate…not to just sit and dine.”

But it’s not just the hardware or even the classes that count. It’s all about the destination. “It’s one thing to go to Barcelona, to experience things, to touch, feel and taste … and it’s another to have that expressed through food,” Ashford notes. So look for some class options that reflect what guests are seeing within the destinations they visit.

More Choices, New Guests

Partnering with ATK will likely help the line lower its guest demographic, attract new travelers, and perhaps entice those who hadn’t thought of a cruise vacation on Holland America as right for them. At the same time, Holland America – with 143 years of heritage in ocean travel and a current group of very loyal past guests – must retain traditions and not alienate that clientele.

So far, it's making the mix work. Recently, Holland America successfully introduced the new “Music Walk,” which serves up traditional Lincoln Center Live music but also has the BB King Blues Clubs and Billboard’s Top 40 hits live shows. Choice rules, and guests pick and choose what they wish to imbibe in musically.

Pot stickers are among the ATK recipes that clients can cook // Photo by Holland America

Similarly, for the ATK program, “we’ll do the things we’ve always done, but also introduce new choices and features,” says Ashford. "It's a notch up." The planned 45-minute ATK demonstration courses will feature a mix of video content, live instruction, taste tests and recipe samples.

Some courses in development include Asian Dumplings, Cooking for Two, We Love Chocolate, Everything Salmon, Getting to Know Chiles, Flavors of the Mediterranean, Meatless Monday Meals and New Italian Favorites.

Also planned are 90-minute workshops that focus on teaching a specific skill set. Proposed workshops include Cake Decorating and Homemade Pasta.

The programs will present a combination of well-tested recipes using consumer-available ingredients with kitchen tips and advice on the brands of cookware, utensils and appliances ATK experts have tried and recommend.

Marketing and Promotion

Agents recognize the exposure Viking Cruises has achieved with sponsorship of Downton Abbey and other PBS series. As for choosing PBS as a partner, “we tell a story that they are excited to work with,” Ashford said.

He stressed that PBS viewers typically love to travel, love authentic experiences, learn to engage and enjoy the idea of touching feeling and tasting. So, Ashford says the partnership is a very good fit.

Joe Slattery, senior vice president, global marketing and sales, Holland America, says agents will learn more about the ATK partnership, ship upgrades and other topics via a series of trade road show seminars that begin this week.

Separately, some agents will learn more about the program as they sail on Koningsdam’s November 9 cruise from Fort Lauderdale. Travel Agent will also be onboard that sailing. To promote the new culinary partnership and perks for guests, agents might watch the show with a targeted group of clients and relay to clients how they can not only watch – but go hands-on with cooking instruction on the ship.

Slattery says America’s Test Kitchen has cookbooks and magazines which agents might acquire to help engage their clients in the new partnership. Since ATK fans as a group are pretty religious in their support of the brand, Slattery says agents can build a group experience around the ATK fans' culinary interests.

ATK vets recipes to perfection by cooking them dozens of times. // Photo courtesy of Holland America

“This is an incredible opportunity for fans of America’s Test Kitchen, and food lovers in general, to immerse themselves in the Test Kitchen experience,” said David Nussbaum, CEO of America’s Test Kitchen. “The classes onboard Holland America Line ships will feature our famous foolproof recipes designed to be repeated and enjoyed long after the voyage has ended.”

Ashford added: "America's Test Kitchen will bring a new take on cooking classes at sea that spans not only recipes but also the science of the cooking process. Its mission is to determine the best methods, ingredients and cooking tools — and now these discoveries will be shared with our guests."

America's Test Kitchen joins Holland America's list of food and beverage collaborators. The line’s Culinary Council is led by Holland America's Master Chef Rudi Sodamin, who is joined by international chefs Jonnie Boer, David Burke, Elizabeth Falkner and Jacques Torres. The line also has exclusive partnerships with Sushi Chef Andy Matsuda and Master Mixologist Dale “King Cocktail” DeGroff.  

Holland America's new onboard initiative with America’s Test Kitchen was facilitated by HAP Consulting, a boutique brand licensing and marketing firm based in New York City.

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About the Author

Susan Young
A veteran of 100-plus cruises, Susan J. Young, is senior contributing editor for cruises – covering ocean, river and niche cruises for Travel Agent and

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By Susan Young | September 20, 2016
Holland America has unveiled a new culinary partnership with the popular PBS program, America's Test Kitchen. All Culinary Arts Centers will be updated as ATK facilities with a new line-up of ATK classes and workshops. Here's a look at what's planned.