Rebranding a business is one of the most challenging things a company can do. Rick Blount understands very well: his family has owned Antoine’s Restaurant for five generations, which has left a legacy not only in the restaurant’s dining rooms, but in public opinion.
Antoine's is famous for many things, including Oyster's Rockefeller, which was invented by Jules Alciatore. Blount told the story of its genesis to historian Mark Cave:
"In those days Jules invents, still our signature dish, Oysters Rockefeller, which, like most things in life I think was a mistake.
He originally had started fool with a escargot sauce, he was trying to make a, a better, a richer sauce for escargot. And the, the classic French bouillon sauce is butter and garlic and parsley, was sort of where he started in his, in his cooking experiments, I guess. And he started adding a whole bunch of the other New Orleans ingredients to it. Green onion, onion, parsley, celery, all the, you know the other stuff, that would’ve been at hand in his kitchen, would’ve been right there. And so he starts sautéing that stuff down.
Well, when he sautéed that down that became a very different sauce, in the pan, than it did when it was just butter. And so now it was thicker, now it reduced into a paste, as opposed to an oil. And he was stuffing the escargot shells with this paste, and he really liked the sauce, and his customers liked the sauce.
But as I would imagine happened often, frequently in New Orleans, New Orleans ran out of snails. Snails were grown in France, and nobody in the New World, I don’t guess, had set up a snail farm, so there were no more snails in New Orleans. And Jules tried his newfound sauce on an oyster, on the half shell, because that was sort of the technique he was using with the snails. So it wasn’t a big stretch.
He was taking the snail shell, putting the snail in it, and then, packing that shell full of sauce, and then baking it. Well, he tried to do the same thing with an oyster. He said, “OK, well we don’t have any snails here in New Orleans, but we’ve got a bazillion oysters. What happens if you put a snail sauce on an oyster?” And, that’s what he did.
He opened an oyster, he left it on the half shell, and he filled the shell with his snail paste, and baked it, broiled it. And what came out was Oysters Rockefeller.
And the, to his delight, I guess, the sauce was incredibly rich, massive amount of butter in the sauce, and he said, “This sauce is so rich, it ought to be called ‘Rockefeller,’ because, Rockefeller was the richest guy around. And the nickname, the joke, just sort of lasted. And that was pretty much it.
It started a whole trend in baking oysters, because New Orleans ate a lot of oysters, it was a staple in the New Orleans diet, but not baked. They were either eating them on the half shell, they were eating them raw, or they were eating fried, or they were eating boiled. They even had some oyster soup stuff going on. But the idea of baking an oyster was not something that was, that nobody in New Orleans had ever experimented with. So Jules really -- not only did he create the one particular dish in Oysters Rockefeller, but that particular dish sort of inspired playing with oysters in the oven, as opposed to playing with oysters in the fryer.
And from there, I think he played with a bunch of other recipes and so on, most of which have not passed the test of time."
This interview was conducted by Mark Cave for the Historic New Orleans Collection's Oral History Initiative.