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Lulu's Start

"I've lived on the East Coast. I've lived on the West Coast. But there's just something about the Gulf Coast that beckons to me," says Lucy "LuLu" Buffett as she takes in the lapping waves of the Boca Chica Sandbar in Key West, Florida. Her legs hang over the side of a motorboat, feet dangling above friends paddling off that evening's spread of Caramelized Onion-and-Spinach Dip, a West Indies salad spangled with hunks of crab, and, of course, LuLu's famous gumbo.

The self-taught chef might have taken a circuitous path to the kitchen, but her dark-roux gumbo-a heady collision of cayenne, bacon fat, and filé powder-has been something of a culinary lodestar. It was there for her in the mid-'80s, when she ditched her job in Fairhope, Alabama, and headed to Belize to cook for Harrison Ford on the set of The Mosquito Coast. Later, it was her way out of SoHo, when cooking aboard an Antiguan yacht proved more appealing than a degree from the French Culinary Institute. And in the late 1990s, it was Buffett's ticket home to coastal Alabama, where she eventually opened the first LuLu's location on Week's Bay in Fairhope.

9 Recipes From Lucy Buffett’s Kitchen

What margaritas are to her brother Jimmy, gumbo is to the free-spirited Lucy Buffett. And the only thing better than a bowl at her LuLu's restaurants? A taste at her Key West home, where she celebrates the bounty of the Gulf.