NEW ORLEANS — Roy Guste Jr., a fifth-generation proprietor of Antoine’s, who managed the historic French Quarter restaurant and documented its legacy and the city’s culture as an author and photographer, died Monday. He was 69.
His sister, Bebe Guste Bruno, said the cause was complications from cancer.
Guste served as proprietor of Antoine’s Restaurant from 1975 until 1984. His great-great grandfather, Antoine Alciatore, founded the restaurant in 1840.
Culinary historian, writer and broadcaster Poppy Tooker, who is researching the restaurant's history for an upcoming book, called Guste a creative genius who was a natural for the role of Antoine's proprietor.
“Roy immersed himself into whatever he turned his attention to – first, as the living embodiment of his great-great grandfather, Antoine, then as a cookbook author and then as a photographer later in life,” she said.
Like many other family members, Guste began working in the restaurant at a young age and came to relish his role in preserving the landmark’s history.
“It was immediately after my 18th birthday that I began working at Antoine's,” Guste said in a 1981 UPI interview. “My reason was merely to make some spending money during my college years. Well, from my first night's work, a strong interest began to develop within me. An interest in the restaurant and a concern for its future.”
Guste was installed as proprietor of the legendary restaurant by its majority owners at the time: his father, Roy Guste Sr., and uncle, William “Billy” Guste Jr., who was Louisiana attorney general.
Then just 24 years old, Roy Guste Jr. came to the job with credentials: he had studied cooking at Le Cordon Bleu, the famed French cooking school. Still, putting him in charge of the day-to-day operations of a restaurant like Antoine’s represented a generational shift. He said in an interview that he realized the challenges of running a restaurant where longtime customers could be reticent to change.
“It's an unending battle. I think it has always been difficult, but the problems were different. I'm not faced with the problem of developing, but I'm faced with the problem of maintaining and improving,” he told UPI reporter John DeMers.
During his tenure, Guste stayed true to Antoine’s traditions, but surprised some members of his family when he wrote and published a cookbook of Antoine’s recipes in 1978. He said he saw it as an attempt to keep the restaurant and its recipes alive for future generations.
'There is no value to secrets in cuisine. Most likely in times past there was some value in protecting one's ideas and creations, but today the value lies in quality of production,” he said at the time.
There was one recipe that Guste did not include in the cookbook – or any of the dozen or so others he authored: Oysters Rockefeller, the iconic dish invented at Antoine’s, whose recipe remains a closely-guarded secret.
“I have not done this in any sense to retain the secret of the original recipe created by my great-grandfather Jules (Alciatore). I quite simply feel that it is not mine to give. It is as though it is a part of the physical structure, which cannot be removed,” Guste said.
He would go on to write 11 other books, with titles such as “The Restaurants of New Orleans,” “The 100 Greatest New Orleans Creole Recipes,” “The 100 Greatest Dishes of Louisiana Cookery,” “Gulf Coast Fish” and “Louisiana Light,” which featured healthier recipes.
He also wrote an official 1984 World’s Fair cookbook and, as a longtime French Quarter resident, wrote “The Secret Gardens of the Vieux Carre: The Historic French Quarter of New Orleans.” He also self-published an updated version of his original Antoine’s cookbook in 2015 to mark the restaurant’s 175th anniversary.
In recent years, in addition to writing, Guste also became an accomplished photographer, chronicling the local arts and culture scene and exhibiting his work in local galleries.
A native of New Orleans and one of seven children, Guste graduated from Jesuit High School and Loyola University. His sister said his interest in photography developed in college and was just one of his many passions.
“He loved history, he spoke French, he was a gourmet and just so knowledgeable and intelligent about so many things. I think he read every book there was about New Orleans,” Bruno said.
Additional survivors include a brother, Michael Guste of Metairie; and a sister, Colette Guste of New Orleans; as well as several nieces, nephews and cousins.
The family plans a public celebration of Guste’s life at a later date.