Friday, March 27, 2009

The History of New Orleans Oldest and Most Famous Restaurant...Antoines in the Vieux Carre

Antoine Alciatore was born in Marseilles, France in 1824. At a very young age, he apprenticed to the owner of the Hotel de Noailles and began working in the kitchen. During his time there, he became a qualified chef and learned the secret of Pommes de Terre Soufflees from the great chef Collinet. As a lot of young men of his time, he became restless in Marseilles. At the tender age of 16, alone he boarded a ship and headed off to the the United States and landed in New York. Aboard the ship, Antoine met and fell in love with Julie Freyss, who was coming to the United States with her parents to settle in New York. He told her that he was going to New Orleans to find his fortune, and that as soon as he had established himself he would send for her and they would be married.

Once in New Orleans, Antoine thrived in the new era of opportunity. As a bonus, the citizens of New Orleans spoke French. Antoine rented a building at 50 Rue Louis and opened a small pension or boarding house. This is now the 600 block of St. Louis Street and is occupied by the Old Civil Court House. For the next five years, Antoine dazzled travelers and New Orleans locals with his knowledge of La Cuisine Francaise, La Cuisine Provencal and his own ability to create and adapt the rich local products...his reputation grew. It was then that he sent for Julie. She traveled to New Orleans and they were married as promised. Together they worked in the small pension, which was now becoming more restaurant than boarding house, and soon outgrew this location. In 1860 they moved the business to a larger building, the Lacoul residence, located at what is now 714 St. Peter Street.

By 1868 Julie and Antoine had seven children; both family and business had outgrown their St. Peter Street residence. Antoine had for some time been planning to build his own place and had acquired a piece of land from the Miltenberger family. Antoine and Julie built themselves a building grand enough for a larger restaurant, for the family residence, and for some guest rooms for friends and discerning travelers.

In 1877 Antoine was diagnosed with tuberculosis and told he had but a few months to live. He put his affairs in order and told his loving wife and their children that he wanted to be buried in Marseilles. "I do not wish you to accompany me, for it would only prolong any sorrow you might feel, were you to watch me fail, day by day, as I neared the grave. Just think of me as though I had already died, for when we part, as I take the boat for Marseilles, we will not meet again on earth." Within three months of his arrival in Marseilles, Antoine died in his mother's home at the age of 52.

Julie Freyss Alciatore (Mme Antoine) carried on the operation after her husband's death. It was her son Jules, who was only eleven years old, who began to show the most intense interest in the restaurant. For the next six years Mme Antoine took young Jules as an apprentice and taught him all she had to teach. At seventeen Jules was sent abroad to France to work in some of the greatest kitchens in Strasbourg, Paris, and Marseilles. He even went to London for awhile.

Antoine's Menu from 1910-1940

After four years abroad, Jules returned to New Orleans, but his mother was still not ready to give him full control of the restaurant. She wanted him to work for awhile as manager of another restaurant, to prove he was ready. Jules became the chef of the famous Pickwick Club in New Orleans. In 1887 his mother asked him to take over the operation of Antoine's.
Some time later, Pierre Bienvenu Roy, a planter from Youngsville in the Parish of Lafayette, Louisiana who used to stay at the pension in earlier days, came into the city to do some business and to stay with his dear friend, Mme Antoine. He brought with him his daughter Althea, who won the attention of Jules. Some weeks later Jules was off to Lafayette, to the plantation of the Roys, to meet Althea's entire family and woo her into becoming his wife. Jules was successful in his mission and soon they were married.

It was not long before Althea gave birth to a daughter Marie Louise, then a son, Jules, and then another son, Roy.

Jules was a master of his art and brought the name of Antoine's to international fame. He was responsible for a major part in the growth of the restaurant. He created many dishes, the most famous being Oysters Rockefeller.

The third Jules found his passion not in cuisine, but rather in romance languages and became a distinguished professor of language. It was Roy who was to carry on the house of Antoine, and he set to work learning the business under his father's careful tutelage.

In 1923, father Jules took Roy to France and to the great kitchens there, so that Roy might observe and remember all that he saw and tasted. Jules gradually handed over the responsibilities of the operation to Roy, so that in 1934, when Jules died, there was an easy transition of proprietorship from father to son.

Roy Alciatore, 1902-1972

Roy continued the operation, expanding and improving through the years. He added the 1840 Room, a small private room designed to honor the year Antoine's was founded, and the Rex Room, decorated to honor the society and past kings of the Krewe of Rex of Mardi Gras.
Roy also created and added many dishes to the menu such as Pigeonneaux Royaux Sauce Paradis.

Pigeonneaux Paradis (Squabs with Paradise Sauce)
Serves 6

6 squabs
salt and ground white pepper
1/2 tick butter
3 cups Paradise Sauce (recipe below)

Wash and dry the squabs. Rub inside and out with salt, pepper, and butter. Place in a shallow baking pan and cook in a preheated 325 degree oven for about 45 minutes or until done. Place the squabs in a deep casserole with 3 cups Paradise Sauce and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Paradise Sauce
Yield: 3 cups

1/3 pound bacon cut in julienne strips
3/4 cup green onions cut in julienne strips
3/4 cup celery in julienne strips
3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons currant jelly
1 cup canned seedless white grapes
1/2 cup of juice in which grapes are packed
1 cup thick Chicken Veloute Sauce (recipe below)

Fry the bacon, discard the grease and set aside. Sauté the celery and onions in the butter until limp. Add the bacon, currant jelly and the juice from the grapes. Bring to a boil, add the Veloute Sauce and the grapes. Simmer for 45 minutes.

Chicken Veloute Sauce
Yield: 1 1/2 cups

2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons flour
salt and ground white pepper
1 1/2 cups warm Chicken Stock (recipe below)

Melt the butter and stir in the flour. Stir and cook until the mixture becomes foamy. Add the warm stock and bring to a boil. Turn fire down to a simmer and add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the fire and dot top of sauce with a few pieces of butter to prevent a film from forming.

Chicken Stock
Yield: 2 quarts

10 pounds chicken scraps and bones
3 onions, sliced
3 carrots, sliced
2 stalks celery
1 bell pepper, quartered
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs parsley
2 Tablespoons salt
3 quarts water

Add all ingredients including the water to a large soup pot. Simmer for 4 hours skimming the fat off the top from time to time. Strain.

This is an excerpt from Antoine's Restaurant Since 1840 Cookbook. It is available on Amazon.

Stay tuned....many more recipes from the infamous Antoine's Restaurant to come

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