Jet Tila’s family helped shape the Los Angeles food scene. Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, authentic Thai and pan-Asian ingredients were difficult to find on grocery store shelves.
His mother and father – both of whom are of Thai-Chinese descent – immigrated to the United States from Thailand, and set about creating Bangkok Market in 1972, one of the first Thai grocery stores in the country. Growing up, Jet stayed busy at the family business, stocking shelves, and helping customers. He also immersed himself in Thai and Chinese ingredients and cooking techniques, which were taught to him by his Cantonese grandmother. Later, in 1978, Jet’s family opened Royal Thai restaurant, where Jet was first exposed to the rough and tumble, fast-paced life of a restaurant kitchen.
It was at this time that Lunar New Year, a holiday centered around food and family, began to take on an increasing importance in Jet’s life. “Lunar New Year is the only holiday we would really all gather for,” said Jet. “Eating Lunar New Year food was significant for us, in a family in which all of us seemed to be in food businesses, either restaurants or grocery stores.”
These early and formative experiences around food had led to a keen interest in cooking, but as Jet pondered career options, he wavered at the idea of being a chef. In his 20s, Tila says he “got it together” and decided to build a more formal foundation for his passion. He completed his culinary education at Le Cordon Bleu, establishing a framework of classical French technique to match his extensive knowledge of Asian cooking. He also completed an intensive study program at the California Sushi Academy.
Combining kitchen experience with the bold new world of food media was a natural move for Tila, whose backyard cooking classes attracted the attention of the Los Angeles Times. He has successfully worked in all aspects of media, writing for the Times and contributing to many other publications and platforms, including National Public Radio, the Food Network, and his appearances on the “CBS Early Show,” “No Reservations,” “Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and battling legendary Chef Masaharu Morimoto on “Iron Chef America,” among many more. But despite these high-profile successes, Jet stays grounded, keeping in mind his roots as the son of grocers and restauranteurs, and the family gatherings for Lunar New Year that inspired him during his childhood.
As 2023 rolls around, we’re thrilled to share a digital cooking demonstration Jet created just for Bon Appétit. We hope you enjoy Jet Tila’s Scallion Pancakes with Ginger Dipping Sauce.