By Liesel Schmidt
July 31, 2022
MIRAMAR BEACH – Having recently turned 50, Chef Giovanni Filippone has a lot to look back on across the five decades of his life.
A French-born Italian, Filippone grew up in a Sicilian family that emigrated to New Jersey after living in France, giving him a culturally diverse background that is obvious in his cuisine – not to mention his vocabulary. Speaking French, Italian, and “screwed up English,” or what he terms “Jerseyish,” Filippone is unapologetically unique and unabashed about being himself, an energetic force of creativity that culminates into dishes that sing with flavor and display an exceptional understanding of nuance.
Growing up in Europe with a mother who cooked meals from scratch using fresh ingredients, Filippone was inspired to become a chef – one at least as good as his mother was.
“She really impacted my career the most,” he said. “I grew up with her authentic Sicilian cooking, so that’s really where it all started.”
Where it led was the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park in New York, where he honed the natural talent that had been growing in him since childhood. It was an externship at Destin’s iconic Marina Café that brought the young aspiring chef to the Emerald Coast. Naturally, Filippone fell hard and fast for the beauty all around him and the friendliness of the people.
“I’d come from New Jersey and fell in love with the area,” he recalled. “I returned to New Jersey and promised myself I would come back here one day. A few years later, I bought a one-way ticket and moved to paradise.”
Living in paradise, Filippone has become part of the food scene at some of the area’s best restaurants, making his mark and showing just what incredible talent he has. Holding positions as executive chef of Marina Café as well as Beachwalk Cafe, Destin Chops, and Vue on 30a, he went on to become executive chef and managing partner at Mama Clemenza’s European Breakfast in 2019. Partnering with William Dee, the two have created a concept that offers guests decadent European-style breakfast dishes made from scratch.
“It’s a great nod to my roots, as we serve delicious European fare, and the schedule is great because it allows me more time with my wife and children,” said Filippone, who has two daughters with his wife, Jennifer.
A two-time contestant on Fox’s cult hit Hell’s Kitchen, Filippone is somewhat famous, having gone nose-to-nose with Chef Gordon Ramsey on more than one occasion. But fame isn’t what he seeks; rather, he simply wants to cook – and live at the beach.
“The beaches and the food drew me here when I was searching for externship opportunities,” he said. “Now, I love living here.”
With 30 years of being a chef under his belt, Filippone has a career that has taken him far. And while he may be a long way from the land of his birth and the country that runs deep in his veins, he brings it to his guests, welcoming them to his table and telling a story with every bite.
Mama Clemenza’s European Breakfast is located at 12271 US Hwy. 98, Miramar Beach. Open Wednesday to Sunday, 8 a.m. to noon, reservations are not accepted. For more information, call 850-424-3157 or find them on Facebook @MamaClemenzas.
Photos by Michelle Farnham