Sucking Katrina out of Antoine's
Restaurant in New Orleans.Photo: Rick Blount
by Guy Martin
Like rogue elephants, or directors of sub-prime mortgage companies, hurricanes don't really give a damn about you. 401k down 40 percent in the last two weeks? Tough luck, Dude. If you get in the way of a hurricane, you still have to pay for being in the way of a hurricane.
The official hurricane season has another five weeks to run until November 30, so the storms are just now tapping the keg of their mid-term Oktoberfest. Last week, Hurricane Omar nipped at the eastern Caribbean and curled back east over the Atlantic to Africa.
Point is: Even when hurricanes go, they stay. As Houston, Galveston, and southwest Louisiana pick up the pieces from Gustav and Ike--having suffered $15 billion and $27 billion in damages, respectively--it's instructive to examine the process of hurricane recovery, as exemplified by one legendary cultural institution in New Orleans. Because Big Momma Katrina is the hurricane that truly keeps on giving.
Antoine's Restaurant began 168 years ago as a small pension by Antoine Alciatore, a young genius of the kitchen who emigrated to New Orleans from Marseilles. Antoine's is owned today by his fourth- and fifth-generation descendants. Antoine's son, Jules Alciatore, invented Oysters Rockefeller in this restaurant's kitchen, on St. Louis Street in the French Quarter. Generations of the great and near-great have dined there--FDR, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Pope John Paul II, Tennessee Williams, not to mention the kings and courts of the Mardi Gras krewes of Rex, Comus, Proteus, Twelfth Night Revelers, and Hermes. Antoine's was--and is--the spine of Creole New Orleans.
Hurricane Katrina cared for none of this. "Well, she ripped the top wall down on the Royal Street side," says Rick Blount, Antoine Alciatore's great-great-grandson and the restaurant's CEO. "You could see floor joists poking out where the wall used to be. So, my first priorities were to shore up the building, and to find our people, meaning our waiters and cooks. That's the soul of our restaurant."