Jet Tila is not your average restaurateur. Growing up in Los Angeles, Tila learned the ancient traditions of Asian cuisine from his Cantonese Grandmother, and went on to complete his training at Le Cordon Bleu. This killer combination of a mastery of Asian ingredients alongside French technique makes Tila both unique and innovative. Whether appearing on Iron Chef to battle Morimoto, or touring with Anthony Bourdain – who refers to Tila as the unofficial mayor of Thai Town in Hollywood – on No Reservations, Tila is an icon when it comes to Thai food in America. Thai Town evolved from The Bangkock Market (opened in 1972 by Tila’s parents as the first Thai market in the country) making Tila its current expert and champion. Now, this restaurateur is also notable for his food writing in publications such as The Los Angeles Times as well as for opening Wazuzu – the Pan-Asian bistro at Wynn Las Vegas’ Encore casino resort, where he reigned as executive chef until 2011. Tila continues to open numerous pop-up restaurant experiences in Los Vegas and Los Angeles, most recently The Charleston in Santa Monica. The venue features 1930’s decor and live entertainment, alongside Tila’s take on classic American comfort food. It seems there’s no limit to what we can expect from this eclectic restaurateur, whose on-screen, off-screen and on-page presence make him the culinary version of a triple threat.
Can you describe what your ideal food day would be?
Dim Sum Breakfast: Fresh Har Gow, Sui Mai, and Chive Dumplings. Then Pineapple Custard Buns.
Lunch: Go back in time head to South Central for Golden Bird Fried Chicken. Damn I miss that place! Dinner at Yai’s in Hollywood with Spicy Basil Pork Belly and Steamed Curry…10,000 calorie day!
Where would you like to travel for inspiration that you haven’t been to yet?
Basque for sure. I’ve been dying to get there after working with their chefs at CIA last year.
What are your favorite places to travel for food?
Mexico City DF, Bangkok, Singapore, Morocco
What do you love about pop-up restaurants? What do they allow for as a restaurateur?
It’s a break from the day to day that all restaurants need. It’s also an opportunity to attract a new demographic. It also promotes collaboration.
How does your background play into your food?
Wow. My background is the foundation; it’s my perspective. I see the world through [the eyes of] an Asian American born in a Mexican neighborhood in LA. It’s a unique perspective that allows me to be grounded at all times but understand refinement.
What we all should know about Asian cuisine…
That it’s many countries and perspectives! Do not judge all Asian [food] by the trip to one country in Asia or your favorite Asian restaurant! It’s like growing up and only eating Granny Smiths and thinking the world of apples is Granny Smith. You are missing Red Delicious, Honeycrisp, Braeburn, etc. I hate how everyone is a critic with no foundation!
What flavors make everything better? Which are overrated?
Balance makes things better…not extremes! What is salt, sour and spice without sweet? More is not better…better is better!