Chef Jet Tila and The Importance of Challenge


Chef Jet Tila is known for his brilliance in the kitchen. Cooking up iconic dishes such as quick beef pho, pad thai, and lo mein, his recipes are shared across the internet and, luckily for us students, end up at Blair. For the Blair community, the meal he made was extremely special. Consisting of foods such as papaya salad thai and tang mein, it was a wonderful experience for an otherwise ordinary Wednesday. Outside of his one day at Blair, his cooking remains a constant. He has been a judge, host, and contestant on many Food Network tv shows such as Guy’s Grocery Games, Iron Chef America and Chopped. He also has written several books such as 101 Asian Dishes You Need You Cook Before You Die and 101 Thai Dishes You Need You Cook Before You Die. Chef Jet also is the developer of Dragon Tiger Noodles Co. and a chef of the restaurants Pakpao Thai and The Charleston in Los Angeles. However, as with every path one takes, success isn’t linear and Chef Jet Tila’s road to culinary fame was a bit bumpy.

His first memory of cooking was when he was 2 or 3 years old. He recalls, “I remember standing next to my grandmother in the kitchen and her having me, like, shell beans, or like, pick through leaves, and I would grocery shop there everyday because we would cook there every single day.” This experience taught him all about food and he continued to do so as he grew up as his grandmother owned a Thai restaurant. Cooking for him was in his genes, however, he didn’t always believe he would be a chef. He said “growing up in the industry, I wanted to run away and have nothing to do with it.” Yet, a moment in his 20s changed his mind. He realized he can merge cooking, his love for communications and teaching all into one. Food Network came out in 1993 so, when he made this decision in 1999, he knew this was his path. He didn’t want to just be in a kitchen for the rest of his life, but to reach a lot of people and to teach them new things. This is why his favorite dishes to make are “intricate old-timey dishes that people don’t know how to make.” such as pad thai, thai curry, or sushi as his love for challenges and teaching people new things keeps cooking entertaining.

Chef Jet’s inspiration is “bringing things into the mainstream”. He enthusiastically states, “I’m teaching people about dishes they may have never seen or they’ve eaten but don’t know how to cook, so I think it’s fun to inadvertently teach people how to do something, or inspire them to eat something new.” He believes that people always remember their meals and he enjoys making people smile through their food as the connection between food and feeling is strong. Similarly, his love for teaching is enhanced by the fact that, because a lot of people watch him on social media, “[he knows he’s] imparted something on to them that they can continue to use”. When I asked him what emotion cooking brings to him he joked, “there’s a little grandmother trapped inside me who’s always wanting to defeat people.” He answered that, when he cooks, he feels pride and happiness as he comes from a family of immigrants and that a generation ago, his parents came to the US with nothing and now, in one generation, he’s been able to accomplish so much. “It’s not just a testament to my family but a testament to this country. I think it’s one of the few places on earth that someone can come with an American dream and accomplish it.”
Chef Jet has been cooking for 30 years and believes his challenges are “dependent on where [he] was”. In his opinion, a lot of people believe cooking is easy when it’s actually one of the most laborious jobs in the world. “Because of food television, a lot of people think you become a chef and you get famous and get on TV but the reality is, you know, one in a thousand chefs will end up on television so it’s about really knowing that you want to do it and, when you get into it, working really hard and, if you decide you don’t want to do it, it’s okay,” the TV chef states.

For cooking competitions, especially those with time limits and mystery ingredients like the show Chopped, it’s a mental game for him. “…I have failed because I’ve panicked and I have not thought it through. So, the hardest part about cooking on TV is the mental pressure because you have to come up with something that’s delicious in no time and you have to make it for really tough judges and your cooking against other people so it’s all mental. It’s ninety-nine percent mental.” For someone who’s done both, Chef Jet believes judging is so much easier. This doesn’t just include trying the food however, but there are teams who dress judges in wardrobe, hair and makeup, and they give them as many drinks and snacks as they want. However, cooking is so much more rewarding in his eyes as he gets to remind kids that he’s “still pretty awesome in the kitchen” or it at least gives him a good challenge.

Challenges are one of Chef Jet’s biggest motivations in the kitchen. He made a five hundred pound pad thai and submitted it to Guiness in hopes of setting a world record, but unfortunately, Guinness claimed Pad Thai was just stir fry and rejected his idea. Instead of crushing his hopes, this only motivated Chef Jet to break the stir fry world record. He did so, twice. He broke it once at one thousand pounds in 2004 and the second time at four thousand and ten pounds in 2011, proving once again he is deserving of the attention and praise given to him. Overall, Chef Jet Tila uses challenges and goal setting to continue improving on his already masterful cooking skills and isn’t afraid to take risks, landing him as one of the top names for cooking in this day and age.

Blair Academy