Chef Cara Marie Duskin comes from a large Italian family. Some of her earliest memories in the kitchen started when she could barely see over the counter, watching her Nonnie make pasta by hand and helping prepare Sunday dinners for the whole family. Her Nonnie is the reason she loves food, and the passion and soul she put into it is the reason Cara puts so much into every plate she creates at Lola’s Tequila Bar & Cantina.
You clearly have a deep-seated love for food. Are you completely self-taught?
I went to the Culinary Art Institute in Fort Lauderdale, FL for about two years, and was offered an amazing job for a catering company I was working for that I couldn’t pass up. In the culinary world, in my opinion, the work experience speaks volumes over a degree.
What is a must try item that we can expect from you since taking the creative reins at Lola’s?
I would have to say my absolute favorite item would be our Fried Platanos. We caramelize sweet plantains so they are crispy on the outside but creamy and sweet on the inside, and top them with our lime mayo, dust with ancho chili powder and smother it in our house made Queso Fresco.
I understand you make the Queso Fresco in-house?
When I came into Lola’s, I wanted to make sure that we were the restaurant where every single item was made in-house. I wanted people to taste what the freshness of a cheese is like. We make it every single day, from pasteurized whole milk, fresh lime juice, rice wine vinegar, salt and infuse it with a bit of cumin for depth. It is a crumbly, creamy cheese with a tart bite and is good on basically anything.
What’s an unexpected dish that diners would not know to expect at Lola’s?
I think the most unexpected dish would be our Lasana de Verduras, our Vegetable Lasagna. I know, I know, what kind of Mexican restaurant puts lasagna on the menu? The kind that believes any.one craving a hearty, flavorful corn tortilla layered concoction with black beans, sauteed bell pepper medley, cheddar jack cheese, rajas poblanas and roasted corn with our salsa verde as our ‘gravy’ is a completely normal menu addition. It may be the Italian in me, but sometimes, there’s nothing better than a little lasagna.
Can you describe some of the gluten-free and options you offer?
Ninety percent of our taco baskets are served with corn flour tortillas and no gluten is used in preparation at all. We also have beautiful quinoa stuffed bell peppers with black beans, avocado, pico de gallo and roasted corn that usually comes with our Queso Fresco.
When you are not cooking for others, what do you cook for yourself?
I am Italian, so I always fall back on pasta. Serve with fresh veggies from the farmer’s market, mix with a little garlic and oil, sweet basil from my garden and lots of Parmesan cheese. I’m pretty sure if you cut me open I would bleed garlic and oil.
What is the perfect meal at Lola’s from beginning to end?
I’d say start with one of our $4 Lola Margaritas and some of our Fried Platanos. If it’s a hot summer day, I’d go with our Baja Fish tacos or perhaps our Chimichurri Shrimp Salad. We have a fantastic vegetarian burrito with basically every single vegetable we could stuff into a flour tortilla, add guacamole and, of course, our Queso Fresco. For dessert, we have our beautiful Sopapillas: little fried flour dough triangles cooked until golden brown, tossed in cane sugar and drizzled with our cayenne honey glaze. They’re our own little Mexican doughboys.
Obviously you’re a kick-ass woman who loves to cook. What piece of advice can you give to young aspiring female cooks?
Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t good enough. You’re going to have to work twice as hard to shine and you’re going to encounter situations that help mold you as a chef. Don’t let the small stuff get you. Earn respect, never waiver from your values and love the food. Love the job and know that you’re changing people’s lives, not like doctors or firefighters, but as a strong, courageous woman who changes the world one plate at a time. I’ve had to have some pretty big cajones in this business, and I’m thankful for every time I ever heard I couldn’t do it because I was a ‘girl.’ If you love what you do, and live your life by your own rules, no one will ever keep you down. You lift yourself up, and stay strong because it’s the only way to shine.