Celebrity Chefs in Destin and South Walton

Emeril Lagasse, Paula Deen, Jimmy Buffet, & More!

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Although most guests take great pleasure in our beautiful  white sand beaches, they also know that the Destin area is the perfect place to “eat, drink, and be merry!” Dazzling Destin along with wonderful South Walton next door feature an abundant array of culinary destinations to choose from and some of the chefs or owners here happen to be celebrities. They include nationally known icons like Emeril Lagasse, Paula Deen, Jimmy Buffett and his sister Lulu. In addition, some chefs are local gourmet legends like Jim Shirley as well as up-and-coming Giovanni Filippone.

Emeril Lagasse

Emeril in Destin

Emeril Lagasse has opened Emeril’s Coastal Italian in Miramar Beach at Sandestin’s upscale town center of Grand Boulevard. Emeril got his start in his Mom’s Italian kitchen and worked in a Portuguese bakery where he learned the art of creating breads and pastries. He was schooled at the highly respected culinary school of Johnson and Wales University where he received an honorary doctorate. After some time in France, he returned to the United States where he was a chef at fine restaurants in New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia.

Later he was selected to become the lead chef at legendary Commander’s Palace in New Orleans where he worked for eight years. Afterward, he opened three of his own restaurants in New Orleans followed by two in Vegas, one in Orlando and a few at the Sands Casino in Pennsylvania. He started to become a household word as he received national acclaim with feature stories in Esquire, Wine Spectator, Travel and Leisure, Southern Living and even People Magazine. He is now a well-known TV personality and author of many cookbooks. Emeril’s Coastal Italian is a chic upscale eatery that features his fine fare done with a coastal flair that features fresh-caught gulf fish and seafood. His wine list is so extensive at many of his restaurants that Wine Spectator has given him a Grand Award every year since 2000.   

Paula Deen

Paula Deen Destin

Paula Deen recently opened one of her superb southern styled restaurants (Paula Deen's Family Kitchen) at Destin Commons, which has been voted the most popular retail center in town. This self-made wonder woman from Savannah, Georgia started a catering business as “The Bag Lady” years ago which morphed into “The Lady and Sons” restaurant. Paula Deen restaurants are now in six other places throughout the south with this restaurant in Destin being her seventh. The vivacious Paula Deen is known nationwide thanks to her 18 best selling cookbooks, her robust, friendly personality, her popular television appearances, and Emmy award-winning cooking shows. Paula Deen’s menu makes your mouth water, especially if you love great home-cooked southern styled country meals and delicious comfort food. She is renowned for providing “all you can eat” family-style meals for both lunch and dinner. Your choice of hearty country dishes is served to the table along with a selection of sides and dessert.

Jimmy Buffett

Jimmy Buffett Destin

Of course, no experience with a margarita at the beach would be complete without a trip to Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. Just don’t blow out your flip flops! This iconic restaurant and lively bar is located at Destin’s rollicking Harborwalk Village overlooking the bustling marina. They do everything to make your tropical escape complete with live music, delicious drinks, and an island-inspired menu. Look to find appetizers like Volcano Nachos, loads of shrimp of all kinds, fresh fish, a Seafood Mac n Cheese dish and their Cheeseburger in Paradise to name a few. The open deck dining and two levels that feature walls of windows overlooking the boating scene provide an exciting dining experience.

Lucy "Lulu" Buffett

Lucy Buffett Destin

Not to be left out, Jimmy Buffett’s sister "Lulu" has also opened a restaurant in Destin (Lulu's) that is located on the bay at the foot of the Mid Bay Toll Bridge. Lulu is also an amazing personality with a robust remarkable life and grew up in LA (Lower Alabama!) Lulu always loved to cook and started out with Lulu’s Sunset Grill in Weeks Bay, Alabama which quickly became a local hangout. In 2003 she unexpectedly had to find a new location, loaded up the entire restaurant with friends onto a big barge and relocated to “Homeport” on the Mobile Bay opening on Fat Tuesday, 2004. The restaurant flourished since her “Life is Good” spirit featured live musical performances, a beach playground for kids, favorite drinks and awesome food. She brings the same to Destin. The menu includes lots of seafood, sandwiches, and delicious southern sides. Up to two live bands provide fun live music with a state of the art sound system indoors and out. Performances go all day and throughout the evening.

Jim Shirley

Chef Jim Shirley South Walton

Jim Shirley is a local popular culinary legend and resides in Santa Rosa Beach. He lived all over the world as the son of a Navy pilot who introduced him to a number of cuisines, but he credits his grandmother‘s traditional southern cooking for the creation of his “Modern Southern Cuisine.” He started out in 1995 opening restaurants in Pensacola including Madison’s Diner (named after his daughter), followed by The Screaming Coyote and The Fish House. He wrote a column for many years called Good Grits for the Pensacola News Journal and later a cookbook compilation of recipes from those columns. He became famous for his “Grits Ya Ya.” His great success in Pensacola led to opening the Great Southern Café in Seaside followed by The Meltdown on 30A, The Bay45 Central Wine & Sushi Bar as well as Baytowne Provisions. Recently he opened another spot known as North Beach Tortilla Co. His restaurants have received acclaim with the Award of Excellence by Wine Spectator, a Hot Spot on 30A, Perfect in South Walton 2019, and Culinary Excellence by the James Beard Foundation.

Giovanni Filippone

Chef Giovanni Filippone Santa Rosa Beach

Giovanni Filippone is a superb chef who is quickly making his name well known in our local culinary world. He is the exceptional chef at the Vue on 30A, which crowns a dune overlooking the gorgeous gulf centered between Dune Allen and Gulf Place in Santa Rosa Beach. Thanks to Executive Chef Filippone, the Vue on 30A has recently been named “Best Waterfront Dining” by Florida Travel & Life Magazine. He immigrated to the US from France with his family when he was ten and later graduated as a chef from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY in 1997. He worked for restaurants throughout New England until he was offered a position as a chef in Destin. In 2009 Filippone auditioned to be on famed chef Gordon Ramsey’s reality show called Hell’s Kitchen for their fifth season where he made it into the top six. He brings all of these skills and knowledge to his position as the Executive Chef at Vue on 30A. Describing his culinary creations, he says, “each dish tells a story using what the eyes see and what the palate tastes.” In other words, his food entrees look like an artistic masterpiece of presentation and are a savory gourmet delight. He was recently awarded The Best Chefs of America Award.

Take a look here on our website and pick a distinctive Destin & South Walton Vacation Rental near one of your favorite restaurants the next time you visit. You’ll love both the fabulous accommodations and great food.

Bon Appétit!