November 29, 2004
Ducking out of the heat and traffic of Bourbon Street and into the cool interior of Galatoire's is an experience as near to time travel as one can find these days. The nearly 100-year-old restaurant proudly retains its ageless wall mirrors, ceiling fans, hat racks, tile floors and the customs of its distinctive and dedicated wait staff.
On entering Galatoire's, one will likely be greeted by David Gooch (B '66), a fourth generation descendant of Jean Galatoire, the restaurant's founder. Gooch is a vice president of the restaurant that has been owned by the Galatoire family since it was founded. Family members have been prominent in running it from the beginning. Besides Gooch, two of his cousins, also fourth-generation descendants of Jean Galatoire, Michele Galatoire (UC '93) and Justin Frey work at the restaurant.
"You might say I was born into the business," says Gooch, whose mother was a Galatoire. "Galatoire's was founded by my great-grand uncle, Jean Galatoire. He was from the Pyrenees area in southwestern France. We have records of Galatoires there going back to the sixth century."
Jean Galatoire left France in the 1880s and opened up a restaurant in Birmingham, Ala. After briefly running a restaurant in Chicago during the World's Fair, he moved to New Orleans at the turn of the century. He started with a Canal Street restaurant and then relocated to 209 Bourbon St., where the restaurant is located today.
"In 1905 he bought the building and it has been Galatoire's ever since," says Gooch. Jean Galatoire had no children, but he did have three nephews who came to America from France early in the 20th century. When the elder Galatoire retired, the three brothers-- Leon, Justin and Gabriel Galatoire-- bought the business from their uncle in 1919. Leon and Justin married and had children, while Gabriel remained a bachelor and lived above the restaurant on the building's third floor, a space now used for the restaurant's business offices.
"The whole top floor was his apartment. It was lavish and full of antiques," says Gooch. "He was a man about town--he entertained a lot and was involved in cultural activities. He didn't have any children and died in the 1940s. That left his two brothers owning the restaurant-- Justin and my grandfather, Leon."
Another of Gooch's cousins, Chris Ansel Jr. (E '56), worked at Galatoire's in the 1960s and '70s, then left to start his own restaurant in New Orleans, Christian's, with business partner Henry J. Bergeron Jr. (E '56). Gooch attended Tulane's business school, and then graduated from Louisiana State University in 1967. He learned about the restaurant business the old-fashioned way, from the ground up. During a six-month wait to report for duty in the army, he took his first job at the restaurant, standing in as maitre d'. While in the army, Gooch spent a year in Vietnam, serving as a combat engineering platoon leader. When he returned to New Orleans, he headed for the kitchen. Gooch apprenticed as a cook in the classic French tradition.
"When I started, I didn't know a thing about cooking," he says. "I didn't know how to break an egg. I trained under Charlie Plough, who had been here for many years. Charlie had trained and apprenticed with other chefs who had been here before."
Gooch spent four years working as a sous chef. For most of the restaurant's history, he says, Galatoire's didn't have a chef per se, but rather a succession of cooks who turned out Galatoire's house specialties such as trout meuniere amandine, trout marguery, oysters en brochette, shrimp remoulade, Chicken Clemenceau and other dishes from Galatoire's traditional menu.
"A chef is a very creative person, and that type of person would have become frustrated working here because he couldn't be creative," says Gooch. "We have great sauces and great dishes here, but we didn't change them. For a long time, we didn't change anything. But now, over the past 10 years, there have been many changes."
One big development was the opening up of the restaurant's second floor, which had been used for private dining parties early in the last century, but was closed when business took a downturn during World War II. The restaurant now takes reservations for tables upstairs, although seating in the glittering downstairs room is still first-come, first-served. Also new are lunches that feature unique dishes created by the restaurant's current chef, although Galatoire's traditional dishes are still the restaurant's culinary mainstays.
"I've been happy with my career here," says Gooch. "In the front of the room you have to be nice, with a smile on your face. As soon as you get into the kitchen, things Change--you might see all kind of problems, and you have to deal with different types of people. But it's like a play--the show goes on. The dining room is a stage, and the whole wait staff has to perform."
Favorite comfort food?
Paul Prudhomme does a mashed potatoes with debris, that rich beef gravy made with the drippings of the pans. I love that. I also love good, creamy red beans and rice.
Greatest food fear?
I notice that when there is a full moon, the hollandaise sauce breaks down. I've noticed it a number of times--the sauce separates. You can bring it back, but it's a pain. When it comes around full moon time, I keep a good eye on the hollandaise sauce.
You certainly have to respect Julia Child tremendously. My wife entertained her here. But look at Emeril Lagasse--I certainly have to respect him for what he's done. In the old days, being a chef was not considered very glamorous--he has made it a glamorous job.
Who is your dream customer?
I'm happy whenever a customer comes in--I'm glad they come. I don't care to have fancy personalities come in. If they come, that's fine, but we don't like to make a big deal over it. We don't go out of our way to get celebrities here, but a lot of them do come.
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