Gumbo Love is the latest cookbook from Lucy ‘Lulu’ Buffett, younger sister of Jimmy Buffett and the self-proclaimed ‘wild child’ of the Buffett clan. It is partly an account of Lucy’s life, filled with signature dishes from her restaurants as well as old family recipes from her childhood, a collection of recipes that allow the reader to travel through Lucy’s adventurous and enchanting stories.
The overarching theme of the book is one of love and warmth and perhaps also, quirky rebellion. From the first chapter — “Life Is Sweet: Eat Dessert First” — one is encouraged to break away from tradition and live life a little more freely. There is also a chapter — called “Ten Grateful Ingredients for a Bright Life and a Happy Kitchen” — that offers helpful advice on how to live more positively both in the kitchen and in life.
The book opens with a thrilling account of roux, the magic base that is at the heart of every gumbo. Buffett introduces the roux with an air of magic, vividly detailing the struggle of cooking the flour and oil mixture long enough to achieve the intended flavor without it burning. The struggle is real, and the journey from pale paste to “a deep, dark brown that’s almost black,” feels like an epic journey. “The magic roux is a little bit of a diva — if you rush her, she will rebel, and you’ll end up back where you started,” Buffett rhapsodizes. “She wants to take her time getting ready, and she wants to see just how far you’re willing to go to witnesses her magic.”
Other recipes in the book include Summer Seafood Gumbo, Spicy Shrimp Ceviche, and Watermelon and Feta Cheese Salad with recipes for many essential Gulf Coast cuisine components — like Creole Seasoning, Shrimp Stock, and Poached Shrimp — included as well.”
Gumbo Love is about more that the contents of Great Aunt Lorrain’s huge cast iron skillet. It is about “cooking with love, serving with love, and loving life.”
Buffett was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about her philosophy and her approach to food. Continue reading below for the interview.
The Daily Meal: What is your philosophy of cooking (and/or eating)?
Lucy Buffett: My philosophy about cooking is that you need to love it! If you don’t — no judgment! Order takeout or let someone else do the cooking. Food and family meals were a central theme in my household. My dad enjoyed cooking more than my mom, and he took charge of Sunday family dinners. To begin, cook what you know! My specialty is Gulf Coast cuisine because it’s the food I grew up on and first learned to cook. I am a self-taught cook, initially learning to cook from a Junior League cookbook to feed my young family. Along the way, I realized how much I enjoyed cooking and meal preparation, so I branched out and began reading cookbooks and cooking magazines. It was fun to try new and different types of dishes and my level of proficiency improved the more I cooked. I now enjoy cooking and eating all kinds of cuisines!
The most important aspect of cooking is taste. Sure, I like it to look pretty too (the colorful ingredients and the flavors must complement each other) but when I serve a plate of food, I want someone to literally say, “Wow!” I’m always going to use the best and freshest ingredients and I prefer to buy from locals when possible. Cooking should also be fun and being organized with your prep can save you a lot of aggravation. I also am a firm believer in making it as easy as possible but I think it’s necessary to experiment, even when the results are less than great, because you always can learn from a failure.
How did it inspire the recipes you chose to include in this book?
Gumbo Love continues the conversation about Gulf Coast cuisines I started in my first book, LuLu’s Kitchen. It features more of the classic Southern coastal dishes cooked in the kitchens of my cherished Mississippi grandmothers.
What is your favorite recipe in the book and why?
They are all my favorites, and that’s how they made it in the book. Of course, gumbo recipes are what I’m known for in my family and circle of friends. Gumbo has the reputation of being difficult to make but I would rather describe it as being more layered with many, many steps. So I definitely encourage folks to make a party day when cooking a gumbo.
What are some of the foods you can’t live without?
Olive oil, shrimp, coffee, avocado, salt and pepper, fresh basil, watermelon, leaf lettuce, chicken thighs, Silver Queen corn.
Would you rather dine out or cook at home?
What is your favorite go-to meal or drink?
Favorite go-to meal is pasta or grits topped with a savory sautéed shrimp dish — usually using tomatoes — but sometimes I lean toward using more of a garlicy wine sauce. It must have wonderful Parmesan cheese to top it off and should be accompanied by a delicious leaf salad using bitter greens with an aged balsamic vinegar that pours as thick as syrup and an artisan olive oil that tastes young and green.
How do you hope readers will use this book, what do you hope they take away?
If they are foodies and they love to cook, I hope they will be motivated to try some of the great dishes that make the Gulf Coast food culture so enticing. I’ve also added stories and anecdotes about my family and the place that I call home, giving a behind-the-scenes view of my crazy wonderful life.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Gumbo Love is not just the title of my book but also the way that I live my life. Learning to cook a pot of gumbo also taught me character-building life lessons, like courage, discernment, patience, fortitude, humility, passion, devotion, and gratitude, that have enabled me to realize my greatest dream of being an independent, successful, self-reflecting, empowered woman.