With two grandmothers whom she referred to as the “true Gulf Coast cooks of my childhood,” it's no surprise that Lucy “LuLu” Buffett would become an expert on Gulf Coast cooking and all its many ingredients.
“I loved being in my grandmothers’ kitchens. One was an elegant food cook and the other was more of a boarding house cook,” Buffett told The Log. “I specifically remember the iconic childhood experience of licking the bowl of the cake that my grandmother Buffett baked each week and helping her stir the gumbo that was on her stove every Friday. My grandmother Peets would let me assist her in fixing fancy pimento cheese for tea sandwiches.”
As a young girl, Buffett took part in preparing dinners, like putting a ham steak in a skillet and making boxed macaroni and cheese.
“I also was industrious and made my own after-school snacks of French fries. Though they were frozen, it was pretty ambitious to heat oil in a frying pan for a 10 year old.”
By the time she was in her 20s, Buffett found she really enjoyed cooking and began to experiment with more and more recipes. She spent a lot of time entertaining friends and family with lunches and dinners and was soon known as the “cook” of the family.
“I never dreamed I would earn my living cooking, but by that time I knew it would be a life-long hobby," she said. "I just loved it, and I loved learning and trying new recipes. I had a knack for it.”
Buffett’s first job cooking was as a chef on a charter yacht for Harrison Ford, friend of her brother Jimmy. Later, she enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in SoHo in New York to learn about French sauces, but before classes could start she rejoined the yacht again.
Since then, Buffett has traveled, lived, learned and cooked her way across the country. She has experimented with and perfected hundreds of recipes that are used in her restaurants in Destin, Gulf Shores, Alabama, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, opening in 2018. Her two cookbooks, “LuLu’s Kitchen” and “Gumbo Love,” contain more than just her recipes. The part food played in her life is evidenced by the stories of her childhood and cooking adventures, told with wit, wisdom and hominess.
Buffett’s style of cooking has gone full circle — home cooking to fancy back to home style, with Gulf Coast recipes from her childhood.
“It is definitely casual cuisine, but I am also obsessed with taste and flavor,” she said. “My food must taste great. The food culture of the coastal South can be heavy and laden with fat, but I also have updated my approach to cooking to use the finest and freshest ingredients possible. It’s the fat that makes it tasty so I cook with just enough of that to make it delicious and I’ve altered my eating to enjoy those great dishes in moderation.”
Buffett’s second book, “Gumbo Love,” is her tribute to the Gulf Coast and the place that she calls home. She portrays the food culture of the coastal South through the lifestyle in the South and the stories behind the recipes.
“I wanted folks to feel as if they have pulled up a chair at my kitchen table,” she said. “I’m not interested in just telling folks how to cook. I want to invite them into my life and let them know why or when I have cooked this dish or that dish. I’m more interested in connecting with people than instructing them.”
Although gumbo was not the first thing Buffett learned to cook, it was her first “mastered” dish that she credits as leading to her outward success as a businesswoman and her inward success as a happy, independent woman.
“It was born of love with an intention to share that love,” Buffett said. “That’s why gumbo is special to me. That’s why it’s more than a humble, tasty seafood soup or a menu item. It’s tradition and work ethic … it’s heart and soul … it’s family and heritage … it’s magic and art… it’s ceremony and laughter … it’s respect and escapism. It is the song of my elders and the future of my ‘songlines.’ It’s all that and more, but at the heart of it, at its genesis, it’s simply love … Gumbo Love.”