Roy Francis Guste Jr, a renowned culinary historian and the author of 12 French-Creole cuisine cookery books, explains why his family restaurant is still going strong after 177 years.
Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on 7th October 1951, Roy F Guste’s future was almost inevitable. He was the fourth generation of a large family, of Creole heritage, who launched the famous Antoine’s Restaurant in the city in 1840 and have run it successfully ever since.
One of seven siblings – brothers Michael, Robert and Taylor and sisters Susan, Colette and Beatrice – Roy is part of New Orleans’ most famous culinary family. His father, Roy senior, and mother Beverley, who wed in 1948, were active members of the local community.
Beverley, a board member of St Tammany Hospital Guild, was a long-time volunteer at the hospital, serving meals to patients. She was also an active member of the support group for Cenacle Retreat House, a New Orleans Christian retreat for women.
The Antoine Restaurant’s History
For Roy junior, Creole cuisine was in his blood. The family restaurant was launched by his great-grandfather, Antoine Alciatore, who moved to New Orleans and opened his first business at the age of just 18. Feeling at home in the local French-speaking community, Antoine’s amazing culinary skills meant he soon had to upgrade to bigger premises to accommodate the diners who wanted to experience New Orleans’ finest Creole food.
His son Jules learned his cooking skills in the great restaurants of Paris and Marseilles, before returning to New Orleans and running Antoine’s, following his father’s death. Jules invented the famous dish, Oysters Rockefeller, which is still cooked today.
With his father a descendant of culinary maestro Antoine and his mother, a graduate of Newcombe College, where she studied fine arts, Roy F Guste junior, a resident of New Orleans’ French Quarter, took a route somewhere between the two and became a food writer.
Roy’s many detailed books preserving traditional Creole cuisine include Antoine’s Restaurant Cookbook since 1840 (1978) which details the history of Antoine’s and the wider Creole cuisine in New Orleans; 100 Greatest New Orleans Creole Recipes (1988); Gulf Coast Fish: A Cookbook (1996); and Louisiana Light: Cajun and Creole Cookery (1990) to name but a few.
He has first-hand experience of the mouth-watering cuisine, having managed Antoine’s himself from 1975 to 1984.
He also contributed to “Orléans Embrace with the Secret Gardens of the Vieux Carré”, with Louis Sahuc and TJ Fisher, which won the Best New Voice Non-Fiction and the Bill Fisher Award for Best First Book Non-Fiction at the Benjamin Franklin Awards 2007, in addition to eight national book awards.
For Roy F Guste, writing about Creole food is a labour of love. His interest was further fuelled by his family heritage, as the third generation was still alive when he was working at the restaurant. His uncle, Roy Alciatore, proprietor of Antoine’s for 42 years, told him many fascinating stories about founder Antoine Alciatore.
Roy said, “At the time, I thought they were just stories – I didn’t think they were real.”
But then, he started researching the background of the dishes and realised everything his uncle had told him was true. Roy learned how his great-grandfather’s teacher was a chef named Collinet, in an upmarket hotel in Marseilles, where Antoine had been an apprentice from the tender age of eight years old, before moving to New Orleans as a teenager.
Collinet is credited with inventing soufflé potatoes – a creation in which a young Antoine played a major role – and Sauce Bernaise. Collinet’s own mentor was Marie-Antoine Careme, known today as the founder of French gastronomy and a pioneer of grande cuisine.
Roy said that Antoine Alciatore was actually christened Angelo, but Collinet changed his name to Antoine when he was an apprentice, saying Angelo was an Italian name that didn’t sit well in a French kitchen!
Sauces and Desserts
When Antoine first came to New Orleans, he used local seafood and other ingredients to make classic French sauces such as Marcand de Vin, Crawfish Cardinale and Shrimp Marinara, which the restaurant is still serving 177 years later. He had also learned how to prepare the dessert we now know as Baked Alaska, Antoine’s signature dessert, while an apprentice in France.
3.5 Million Servings and Still Counting
Roy mused how his own grandfather Jules’ famous dish, Oysters Rockefeller, had been served at Antoine’s an estimated 3.5 million times, since he invented it in 1899!
“The original recipe is still a secret that I won’t divulge!” he added, “Jules was a pioneer in the art of cooked oysters, which were rarely cooked before this time”.
Following the death of his father five years ago and his mother’s recent death, aged 93, in January 2017, Roy is concentrating on keeping the family heritage alive. This will undoubtedly be the case with his wonderful books and his wealth of knowledge on Creole cuisine and history.