Shining a spotlight on celebrities and athletes who love to travel. Created and developed by Stacy Steponate Greenberg.
Once upon a time he was just a kid doing his homework in the back of restaurants. Today, Jet Tila is a wildly popular Chef, Instructor, Writer and TV personality. Tila’s family were pioneers in bringing Thai food to the United States when they opened the first Thai food grocery store, Bangkok Market in Hollywood, CA. Tila pitched in by sweeping floors, packing groceries, listening and learning. His AHA moment came one night as he considered how many shoppers would inquire about how to use the various Thai ingredients. Tila had the idea to give cooking classes from his parents’ house, and from there he simply did not stop, going on to stints on Iron Chef America, Chopped and Cutthroat. As his notoriety grew, Tila was named the culinary ambassador of Thai cuisine by the Royal Thai Consul General in Los Angeles.
And as though all of that wasn’t enough, he just finished his second book on sale April 30, 2019: 101 EPIC DISHES: Recipes That Teach You How to Make the Classics Even More Delicious that he co-authored with his wife. The Overhead Compartment was excited to share a few dishes and learn about Tila and his life in and out of the kitchen while hopefully walking away with a few cooking tips.
The Overhead Compartment with Chef Jet Tila begins now….
OC: Your parents opened the first Thai food grocery store in Hollywood and then the first Thai restaurant in West LA. How was your childhood influenced by them?
JT: We started Thai food in America, but, we also lived in one the best neighborhoods in America in my humble opinion. We lived between what was to be Thaitown, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Korea Town and a Salvadoran Neighborhood. All these cultures heavily influenced my food palette knowledge. Growing up with all these influences and going to a French and Japanese culinary school really rounded me.
OC: How did that lead you to where you are today?
JT: Diversity really made me the person I am now. All those influences taught me about many flavors and really cultured me.
OC: The late, great Anthony Bourdain referred to you as the Mayor of Thai Town in Hollywood, what influence did he have on your life?
JT: Tony’s blessing brought a lot of eyes to Thaitown. Through his show, many doors opened up for me. From opportunities such as working in Las Vegas, then starring in TV, I was given a larger stage.
OC: Your new book, “101 Epic Dishes: Recipes That Teach You How to Make the Classics Even More Delicious” is co-authored with your wife, what was the experience like working with her?
JT: The process was tough, but so rewarding. Ali is my best friend, confidant and partner in crime. We have complementing skill sets. She was a special-ed teacher for 15 years, and all of her organizing skills kept me on track. I’m very good at macro vision and she’s great at fine detail.
OC: What advice would you give to chefs looking to follow in your footsteps?
JT: I always tell up and coming chefs that success is so much more than just great cooking. I equate it to the five tools of baseball. A great chef has to be a great cook, business man, leader, communicator, employee and counselor.
OC: What was your favorite thing about growing up in Los Angeles?
JT: My love for LA is marrow deep. We were pretty poor growing up and I would never change that for anything. Not having much made us take the bus, travel, walk, talk and feel the amazing neighborhoods. Having exposure to so many cultures is what LA is all about. Largest Korean, Vietnamese and Thai communities outside their respective countries. It’s like traveling without having to ever leave.
OC: Where do you like to travel for inspiration?
JT: Japan and Spain.
OC: What is your favorite meal to make?
JT: Right now I love being the short order breakfast cook for my kids. I travel a lot, so when I’m home on the weekends I get the kids up and give Ali a break. I have no idea what they will order – it could be pancakes, french toast, omelette or hash.
OC: What is your favorite meal to eat?
JT: I can’t say no to fried chicken wings.
OC: Is there anything you refuse to cook?
JT: Haha, no I’ll cook anything.
OC: Favorite place for Thai food in the US?
JT: Wow…too many but Yai Thai in Hollywood or Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas.
OC: What is the first thing you do when arriving at a hotel in your room?
JT: Put on pajamas and order extra pillows.
Chef Jet Tila, please use care upon departure as items may have shifted in The Overhead Compartment during our journey. Thanks for choosing us for your travel tips! Have a wonderful day!