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California Questionnaire: Jet Tila

California Questionnaire: Jet Tila

The Food Network star is a true culinary storyteller, and Anthony Bourdain once called him the “unofficial mayor of Thai Town”

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When he’s not appearing on an episode of Chopped, Beat Bobby Flay, or Guy’s Grocery Games, there’s a very good chance you’ll find Jet Tila in Thai Town, the six-block neighborhood in East Los Angeles that inspired him to become a chef and culinary anthropologist. “I was born into the ‘first family’ of Thai food in Los Angeles,” Tila explains. “My parents came here separately in 1966 and went on to open the first Thai restaurants and grocery stores in this country.”

His passion for the community, and the cuisine, has only grown since those early days as “the kid doing homework in the back corner of the restaurant.” Tila trained at both Le Cordon Bleu and the California Sushi Academy, fusing classical technique with contemporary thinking. He has written three cookbooks, including “101 Thai Dishes You Need to Cook Before You Die.” Tila also has set three world records: for creating the world’s largest stir fry (4,010 lbs.); the world’s largest seafood stew (6,656 lbs.); and the largest California roll (422 ft.). He recently partnered with Visit California and CAMP, hosting a special event for families at the brand’s flagship store in New York City complete with crafts, snacks, and sushi tutorials.

Where do you live? 
Currently Calabasas by way of Silver Lake, West L.A., and East L.A.

Why there?  
After two kids and a pandemic, we wanted more space in a quiet, family-friendly community. Ali, my wife, is from the area and we love it.

Who or what is your greatest California love?
Thai Town, six blocks of Hollywood Blvd. between Western and Normandy. I spent a lot of my life there, watched the Thai community establish itself and flourish there. I’m proud to know I am responsible for a little piece of the Thai story in America.

What is the biggest misperception about Californians? 
We are not wannabe actors and all about the film/TV industry.

What is the stereotype that most holds true? 
We have the best ethnic food in America. It’s a result of the cultural melting pot that is California. 

What is your favorite Golden State splurge? 
Wine country—Yountville. The perfect weekend is wine tasting, English muffins from The Model Bakery, lunch at Mustards Grill, and dinner at The French Laundry.

Time for a road trip—where are you going?
See above.

If you could decree an official state culinary experience, what would it be?
A taste of Asia in L.A.—eating through Thai Town, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, and Koreatown all in one day.

What does sustainability mean to you?
It means the ability to share our bounty with generations to come. Producing and consuming responsibly.

Where would you go for the ultimate shopping spree in California?
La Brea Blvd. near Melrose. Sneakers, urban wear, and culture.

Best California song?
“This Is L.A.” from The Briggs. It’s my ultimate L.A. pride song. I’m a fiercely proud Angeleno.

How would your California dream day unfold? 
Dawn surf in Malibu, then chopper into Chinatown L.A. eating dim sum for breakfast. Private jet to wine country for lunch and wine tasting right to a mud bath and massage. Dinner at The French Laundry then down to San Francisco to jump on a fishing boat.

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