The New Potato
June 27, 2012
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.
1. 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!
2. 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.
3. What are your favorite places to travel for food?
Mexico City DF, Bangkok, Singapore, Morocco
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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!
7. 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!
8. What is your go-to recipe when cooking for family and friends?
I can cook the piss out of any piece of meat or seafood! I’m an animal specialist not a vegetable specialist.
9. What do you always put out at a dinner party? Why?
I love balance in a meal, so there will be two or three vegetables to every meat. I love seasonals like snap peas, favas, and amazing seasonal stones and citrus.
10. What are your favorite cities for food? What spots do you go to in each?
Answered above. There’s a Hainanese restaurant in Bangkok called Kuan-ah. My grandparents, parents, cousins have all eaten there. Best Hainanese chicken and rice in the world…no BS!
11. If you could pick a chef to be in the competitive arena with, that you haven’t yet gone up against, who would it be?
Battling Morimoto was awesome. But battling Amanda Frietag, Scott Conant and Aaron Sanchez on Chopped would be fun as hell!
12. What ingredient would you like to be assigned?
Pork Belly, blood clams, bone marrow, and durian!
13. What ingredient would you dread?
Any and all insects!
14. Could you give us some menu favorites from the newly opened Charleston Grand?
Korean Tacos are super fun. Pork Belly Buns, and I’m pretty sure I’m gonna bring the drunken noodles!
15. A recipe you’re willing to share with us…
Please see attached.
16. What would your last meal be, and who would it be with?
Grandma’s sweet soy ginger braised pork trotters with a bowl of jasmine rice and a diet coke!
17. Is there any advice you have for chefs starting out?
Always assume you don’t know shit! Keep your eyes and ears open and mouth shut. Attach yourself to the best always if you want to be the best, and always have high standards. If you find yourself the one in the room that is being thought of as asking too much…you will make it! And just enjoy the journey!
18. Do you have any favorite upcoming chefs?
The two chefs in my kitchen that I work with daily, Carlos Arizaga and Marco Awad.
19. Are there other iconic chefs whose career you’ve always followed?
Fergus Henderson and my grandmother!
20. Whats always in your refrigerator and always on your grocery list?
Schmaltz, Diet coke, braised brisket, and greens.
To view Jet Tila’s recipe for Charleston Korean Tacos, click here