Lila Gaylie works just a few blocks from where she was born, at St. Paul’s Hospital. The owner and chef of Lolita’s South of the Border Cantina (1326 Davie Street) has spent most of her adult life in the West End—first as a resident and then as a business owner.
“I would never want to open a restaurant anywhere else,” she told the Georgia Straight during an interview at Lolita’s. “I love the blend of people. I love that it’s a community on its own. We’ve seen Davie Street do some amazing things.”
Gaylie, who’s worked in the restaurant industry since she was a teenager, opened Lolita’s with her brother, Jaison Gaylie, in 2005.
“We opened on Pride weekend, and it was me and my brother, and my mom was out in the back putting together chairs,” she recalled. “We didn’t really have anything, so we just opened the doors and served margaritas and fish tacos, and it was just wild. Because it was Pride weekend, we were just packed and there was a lineup out the door, and ever since it’s been a lot of work but a lot of fun.”
Over time, Gaylie became the sole owner of the restaurant. At first, she supervised front-of-house, putting her wine education and experience managing the Alibi Room and the now-closed Bin 942 to use. However, her curiosity about cooking led her into the kitchen, and she eventually learned enough from former Lolita chef Shelome Bouvette (who left to run East Vancouver’s Chicha) to take over her duties. Recently, Gaylie earned her baking and pastry arts diploma at Vancouver Community College, and now she’s studying to be a sugar artist.
When she was growing up, Gaylie’s family travelled to different parts of Mexico at least once a year, so she’s familiar with Mexican flavours.
“Even when I became an adult and was living on my own, every single city I would live in—whether it was Toronto, San Francisco, Victoria, or Whistler—I always sought out the Mexican restaurants,” she said. “When I travel, it’s the first thing I look up when I go to a city. I eat it probably almost every day.”
Gaylie described the Lolita’s menu as a blend of Mexican and tiki-themed offerings.
“We always think about how we can ‘Mexi-tize’ something. You take something that you like and think, ‘What can you do to Mexi-tize?’ ” she explained.
A good example is the brownie recipe below, which often appears at Lolita’s as a dessert special.
“For this recipe I used pecans, which are from the south, and I used a spicy árbol chili, which is a very popular chili in Mexican cooking,” Gaylie said. “I was on a mission to create a gluten-free dessert that not only people that were gluten-free would like, but that everybody would like.”
Gaylie suggested pairing the brownies with a glass of Pinot Noir or Syrah, which complement the dark chocolate and cherries.
Lila Gaylie’s chili–spiced brownies with chocolate ganache and cherry coulis
⅓ cup (90 mL) cornstarch
¼ cup (60 mL) unsweetened cocoa powder
½ tsp (2 mL) ground cinnamon
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
2 árbol chilies, stems removed and ground into powder using a coffee grinder
2½ cups (625 mL) semisweet chocolate chips
¼ cup (60 mL) butter
¾ cup (185 mL) sugar
¼ cup (60 mL) dark rum
2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 cup (250 mL) toasted pecans, roughly chopped
- Preheat oven to 350 ° F (180 ° C).
- Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, sift together cornstarch, cocoa powder, cinnamon, salt, and ground chilies.
- Bring a medium pot of water to a rolling boil. Set a heat-proof bowl over top, creating a bain-marie, and melt the chocolate chips and butter, stirring continuously. Once the mixture is completely melted, remove from heat and slowly stir in sugar, rum, and vanilla.
- Whisk eggs in a separate bowl. Add to melted chocolate mixture and stir until smooth. Stir in pecans. Carefully fold dry ingredients into wet mixture until just combined.
- Transfer batter to prepared baking pan. Bake for 25 minutes; rotate pan 180 degrees; bake 10 minutes more. Brownies are ready when a knife or toothpick inserted into the middle appears slightly damp when removed. Cool to room temperature.
- Slice into 9 squares. For each serving, place a spoonful of chocolate ganache in the centre of a plate, add brownie, and drizzle cherry coulis over top. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.
Dark chocolate ganache
2 cups (500 mL) dark chocolate chips
½ tsp (2 mL) salt
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract
⅔ cup (180 mL) whipping cream
⅓ cup (90 mL) icing sugar
2 large eggs, yolks only
2 Tbsp (30 mL) butter, at room temperature
- Bring a medium pot of water to a rolling boil. Set a heat-proof bowl over top, creating a bain-marie, and melt chocolate chips, stirring occasionally. Stir in salt, vanilla, and whipping cream. Sift icing sugar over top and stir into mixture.
- Using two small bowls, separate egg whites from yolks. (Refrigerate egg whites for another use.) Whisk and then add yolks to chocolate mixture, stirring continuously until just combined. Remove chocolate from heat and stir in butter.
- Push mixture through a sieve twice for shine and smoothness. Serve immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to a week.
2 cups (500 mL) fresh or frozen cherries, pitted
½ cup (125 mL) sugar
1 Tbsp (15 mL) cornstarch
¼ cup (60 mL) cold water
- In a large pot over medium heat, cook cherries and sugar until cherries become soft. Mix cornstarch with cold water in a small bowl; add to cherries, whisking to incorporate. Cook for 10 minutes, or until thickened.
- Remove mixture from heat and blend with a hand blender until it reaches syrup consistency. Refrigerate before serving.
Yield: 9 servings.
Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.