“Just about everybody who grew up on the Gulf has a story about their mother’s gumbo, or their grandmother’s,” says Lucy “LuLu” Buffett. Jimmy Buffett’s “crazy sista,” from Mobile, Alabama, is no exception. “As kids, we’d go see my grandmother once a week. She’d make all sorts of things: potato salad, cake… But there was always gumbo—and she was a great cook.”
Buffett was watching closely on those childhood visits, though she wouldn’t put what she’d learned to use until 1998, when she returned home and opened her first restaurant, LuLu’s Sunset Grill, on Weeks Bay in Fairhope, Alabama. In 2003, she moved the restaurant to Gulf Shores, and laid the groundwork for a casual-dining empire. Now, Buffett is releasing her third cookbook, the summery, eclectic Gumbo Love: Recipes for Gulf Coast Cooking, Entertaining, and Savoring the Good Life, out this week.
“A few years ago, I had this lightbulb moment of, wow, look at all the different cuisines along our Gulf—Mexican, Tex-Mex, Cajun, Creole, Old Florida, all the way down to Cuban,” Buffett says. Gumbo Love collects more than a hundred Third Coast recipes from Buffett’s restaurants and her family recipe box, ranging from tres leches cake and sweet-and-savory picadillo to classic shrimp remoulade and broiled oysters with lemon-garlic butter. Of course, gumbo is still the star of the show—the book includes five iterations, including the recipe she learned as a child.
“My grandmother’s old-fashioned gumbo is a crab and shrimp gumbo with tomatoes and okra—what some people call a summer gumbo,” Buffett says, owing to the seasonal seafood and fresh vegetables. “It’s still the one I make most often.”
It takes courage to make a gumbo, and you’ve got to rustle up plenty more qualities along the way to achieve a successful end result. But like any character-building exercise, your experience and wisdom deepens with every step, until you reach a profound sense of satisfaction by the end of the process.
—Lucy “LuLu” Buffett, Gumbo Love: Recipes for Gulf Coast Cooking, Entertaining, and Savoring the Good Life