How Jet Tila Got His Start In The Food Industry

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You might be familiar with Thai food in modern America. Dishes like pad thai, tom kha khai, and fried rice are all easy to find and relatively popular — but this wasn't always the case. The innovation and entrepreneurial spirit of Taiwanese immigrants to the states is what brought the cuisine to the west coast of the United States and beyond, and one of the chefs continuing to share Taiwanese cuisine is chef Jet Tila.

All American Speakers reports that the chef has set not one, not two, but three world records by cooking the world's largest stir-fry, seafood stew, and California roll. But breaking records isn't all Tila is focused on. According to Food Network, Tila was bestowed the title of Culinary Ambassador of Thai Cuisine by the Royal Thai Consul-General. And, as if that wasn't impressive enough, the chef has also appeared on iconic television shows like "Iron Chef America," "Chopped," "Cutthroat Kitchen," "Beat Bobby Flay, and the "Today" show. 

Currently, Tila, author of the "101 Thai Dishes You Need to Cook Before You Die" cookbook (via Amazon), is the host of Food Network's digital series "Ready Jet Cook." But the road to greatness wasn't always smooth and Tila's origin story is one he prefers to tell himself.

It all started with a store

Recently, Jet Tila posted a video on Instagram to tell the world how he became a celebrity chef. Those following his illustrious career might not have known it before, but Tila's parents immigrated to Los Angeles and founded the United State's first Thai grocery store, the Bangkok Market, in 1972. 

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Bangkok Market was one of the few places in the city, let alone the state of California, where you could find ingredients like kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, and curry paste. Apparently, Tila was asked by many customers how to use the store's supplies and it helped to inspire his passion for cooking Thai food. 

In his Instagram video, Tila went on to tell his fans that he dropped out of high school only to end up accomplishing both French and Japanese Culinary school. He worked to combine his cultural cuisine with the new skills he picked up in school and grew fascinated with the history and technical side of cooking. 

Los Angeles' Bangkok Market closed its doors in 2019 but its legacy lives on in Tila, who continues to spread the joy of food and cooking wherever he goes (via KCRW).