Celebrity chef Jet Tila has been cooking his famed Southeast Asian food for 25 years.
“I’ve traveled the world and I cook a lot of different disciplines of food,” he said. “I do Thai, Chinese, Japanese, (and) I’m pretty comfortable with Korean and Vietnamese.”
Tila, who has appeared on various food shows such as “Chopped,” “Iron Chef America” and “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” made a visit to Riverside Military Academy on Tuesday.
“The company that does the food service here (at Riverside) is called ‘FLIK,’ and I partner with them,” he said.
Thanks to that partnership, students at the academy were able to get a taste of some of Tila’s various dishes.
“A nice mix of all the different cuisines,” as Tila called it, the menu consisted of Thai barbecue chicken, a Chinese chicken salad, pineapple fried rice, broccoli salad and a homemade Sriracha sauce.
“It’s nice to expose students that maybe not have had Asian food much in their life to culture,” he said. “I think culture is really the nonpolitical bridge to learning about the world.”
He described his Thai food as “more hot, sour, salty and sweet” than other types of cuisines.
“Asian food has been here since the 1800s, so I think as palates evolve, it’s just a whole other category of food,” he said. “(And) I think everyone knows pretty much what Chinese food is.”
He also noted that at Riverside, only fresh ingredients are used.
“We don’t open cans here even though we’re serving 500 kids three times a day,” he said. “Everything's just like you would do it at home, except in a larger scale. We cook everything from scratch fresh.”
Before serving the food, though, Tila addressed the student body about his personal life and what led him to his career.
“I grew up in a mom-and-pop Thai restaurant,” he said, mentioning how his family opened the first restaurants of that kind in the country. “I almost kind of didn't have a choice. That’s how I felt earlier, but then I realized how lucky I was to be immersed and born into the business.”
In addition to his experiences with his parents’ restaurant, Tila learned about Asian cuisine from his Cantonese grandmother and later attended Le Cordon Bleu, as well as California Sushi Academy.
“Going to culinary school formalized my education,” he said. “It taught me the other side of the world of food and kind of weaved them together.”
Since graduating, Tila said he has had the opportunity to work at various restaurants, write for the Los Angeles Times, develop Asian recipes for the cafe at Google headquarters, appear on various TV shows and even create a cookbook.
“I think with the popularity of Asian food, there’s a few chefs in the country that do it (and) do it well,” he said. “It’s nice to be a part of that group.”
He encouraged those who have not tried the cuisine to do so.
“Even if you’ve never been to Asia or know Asian food, I think you know delicious,” he said. “We all have this baseline of what things taste like and what tastes good. For me, it’s really about making sure the food is good, no matter what culture it is. It’s seasoned, it’s cooked well and it’s good ingredients. That’s the secret to just about all cooking.”