Two photos show Jacques Pepin sitting in the back of a truck, and dunes on a beach on Amelia Island

This Florida Island Is the Inspiration Behind Celebrity Chef Jacques Pépin's Beloved Cookbooks

Celebrated French chef Jacques Pépin has found a second home in Florida.

Back in the 1980s, Jacques Pépin traveled to Amelia Island, off the Atlantic Coast of Florida, for the first time. His TV show Everyday Cooking with Jacques Pépin had recently launched on PBS, and he was there for a conference at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island. The trip turned out to be the start of a decades-long relationship. “I liked the ambience, which felt casual but elegant,” Pépin says. “It reminded me of coastal towns in the south of France, where you can walk by the sea. I also loved the New England–style architecture, and the fact that it has milder weather than the rest of Florida.”

In the years that followed, Pépin, originally from southeastern France, became a world-renowned culinary figure. He has hosted 13 cooking shows and even served as personal chef to French president Charles de Gaulle, all while championing simple cooking methods and seasonal, local ingredients. Meanwhile, the island—Pépin calls it simply “Amelia”—became a favorite winter destination for him and his late wife, Gloria. It also became a source of artistic inspiration for Pépin, whose paintings and sketches decorate several of his cookbooks. His most recent illustrated title, Art of the Chicken: A Master Chef’s Paintings, Stories, and Recipes of the Humble Bird, was released in September.

Visitors to Amelia Island today might run into Pépin shopping for shrimp at the Saturday market, popping into local bookstores for signings, and playing boules, a popular French game similar to bocce, at the outdoor courts. Here, he shares some of his original artwork—and his favorite Amelia haunts.

Main Street, Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island
Centre Street in Fernandina Beach, the main town on the island.

Deremer Studios

Great Heights

“I’ve painted seascapes, but trees are more interesting to me. I’m inspired by the beautiful canopies of the old oaks along the Amelia Island Parkway and the leafy giants in town, like the ones locals call ‘Kate’s and Fred’s trees.’ Kate’s oak, on Ash Street, is named after Katherine MacDonell Bailey, an island resident who saved it from being cut down in the 1800s; Fred’s tree, another rescue, stands next to what used to be Fred’s Department Store.”

A painting of arched trees done by Jacques Pepin
The chef’s painting of local trees.

Courtesy of Jacques Pépin

Man About Town

“On Centre Street, the main street in Fernandina Beach, I’ll typically have a coffee at Amelia Island Coffee and head to the bookstores. I go see Sue Nelson at the Book Loft and Mark and Donna Paz Kaufman at Story & Song Neighborhood Bookstore Bistro.”

Ahead of the Game

“My friend Philippe Boets started the Amelia Island Open in 2009. It’s now the largest boules tournament in the U.S. I’ve been playing since I was six or seven years old. My parents had a restaurant with boules courts outside, and my brother and I would take on anyone who came by—mostly women and men in their 80s, and other children. On Amelia, I play pickup games all the time. If people see you watching, they’ll invite you to join.”

Two photos from Amelia Island, Florida, one showing tacos, and one showing a man holding a pétanque boule and a towel
From left: Tacos at Pablo’s Mexican Cuisine; a boules player awaits a turn.

From left: Courtesy of Pablo's Mexican Cuisine; VW Pics/Getty Images

Bread and Butter

“For dinner, España is one of my favorite places for paella and tapas. I also like Pablo’s Mexican Cuisine, where I’ll order chile verde, fish tacos, and a big margarita. For Italian food, I’ll visit Ciao for the excellent risotto or the pasta with clams. At La Sureña, I’ll have the pozole and the cabeza (beef cheek) tacos for lunch.”


“On Saturday mornings, I walk up and down the Fernandina Beach Farmers Market with my mini poodle, Gaston, to buy fresh bread and whatever produce looks especially good, usually organic vegetables. I call ahead to order royal red shrimp from Chesser Seafood. You can’t find them everywhere. Debbie and Eddie Chesser save the extra heads and shells for me—the good stuff—which I use to make shrimp bisque.”

Illustrations of onions and carrots done by Jacques Pepin
Pépin's illustrations of onions and carrots.

Courtesy of Jacques Pépin

Packing List

“When I drive down to Florida each year from Connecticut, I usually bring six to eight cases of wine from the cellar and maybe some seasonings from Provence that might be hard to find. And I never forget my boules.”

A version of this story first appeared in the November 2022 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline "Island Inspiration."

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