CHEF JET TILA From the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Normandie Avenue in the heart of Los Angeles to the Las Vegas Strip; from backyard cooking classes to battling legends on “Iron Chef America”—Jet Tila has carved a singular niche as a culinary storyteller. Thanks to his diverse background and education, Tila is as comfortable as chef and consultant as he is teacher and student in the art of food. His numerous accomplishments in the culinary world continue to grow. In 2013 alone, Tila has partnered with the Compass Group, the world’s largest food-service company, to launch Modern Asian Kitchen, a new fast-casual Pan-Asian concept with locations nationwide. He is also set to separately open Kuma Snow Cream, a shaved-ice concept launching in Las Vegas this spring, all while continuing to build on his extensive national TV and radio appearances as a guest judge on “Chopped,” as well as hosting his own radio show on KLAA in Los Angeles.Tila grew up in his family’s restaurant kitchens and markets in Los Angeles, home to the world’s largest Thai population outside of Thailand. As a boy, he spent time learning the ancient traditions of Asian cuisine from his Cantonese grandmother and working in the famed Bangkok Market, which opened in 1972, and Royal Thai restaurant, which opened in 1978. “I call it birth luck,” he says. “I was born into the ‘first family’ of Thai food in Los Angeles. My parents came here separately in 1966 and went on to open the first restaurants and grocery stores in this country and I was the kid doing homework in the back corner of the restaurant.”
Not initially sure if he would pursue a career in the kitchen, in his 20s, Tila says he “got it together” and decided to build a foundation for his passion and completed his culinary education at Le Cordon Bleu, establishing a framework of classical French technique to match his extensive knowledge of Asian cooking. He also completed an intensive study program at the California Sushi Academy. “My food is predominantly Thai and Chinese because it was the food I was exposed to growing up,” he notes. “And my cooking overall represents the neighborhood I grew up in LA: between Thai Town, Chinatown, Koreatown, and Little Tokyo.” Combining kitchen experience with the bold new world of food media was a natural move for Tila, whose backyard cooking classes attracted the attention of the Los Angeles Times. He has successfully transitioned from subject to producer by writing for the Times and contributing to many other publications and multimedia platforms, including National Public Radio, the Food Network, and his appearances on the “CBS Early Show,” “No Reservations,” “Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and battling legendary Chef Masaharu Morimoto on “Iron Chef America,” among many more. A highly sought-after consultant, Tila opened the cafe at Google headquarters in Silicon Valley and also currently maintains a wildly popular Asian food line through Schwan’s Home Service. He keeps close to his roots by conducting “Melting Pot Food Tours” of Thai Town in Los Angeles, offering participants a curated tour of his favorite aspects of the neighborhood. In 2009, Tila debuted the acclaimed Wazuzu, a brilliant take on Pan-Asian dining, at Steve Wynn’s Encore casino and resort on the Las Vegas Strip, which he was tapped to open in a record 98 days. More recently, he launched Bistronomics, an acclaimed series of pop-up restaurant experiences in Los Angeles. Tila has also set three world records: for creating the world’s largest stir fry (4,010 lbs.); the world’s largest seafood stew (6,656 lbs.); and the largest California roll (422 ft.).
Tila’s current and future projects promise to bring him and his culinary skills to more prominence. He is currently working with the Compass Group to open Modern Asian Kitchen, a fast-casual Pan-Asian concept with locations nationwide, and is branching out on his own to open Kuma Snowcream, a shaved-ice concept launching in Las Vegas in spring 2013—the product of which he says is “like fresh, powdered snow, but that is creamy and tastes like ice cream.” “At this point, I am interested in creating concepts, not just one-offs,” he says. “I am and always will be a chef, but I am also always interested in new ways to combine cooking, business, and communication, since I enjoy all of them as much as I enjoy teaching people about where I come from through my food.” Tila currently lives in Los Angeles with wife, Allison, their two children, as well as two dogs.