The Untold Truth Of Jet Tila

Jet Tila is a familiar face to many. These days, it's hard to turn on the television without seeing him whipping up some pad thai on a daytime talk show or judging the contestants' meals on an episode of "Chopped." But while legions of fans may know Tila the chef, few are likely as familiar with Tila the son, the husband, the ambassador, or world-record holder.

These are just a few of the roles that tell Tila's full story, one that started some 60 years ago when his upstart immigrant parents moved to the United States. Needless to say, plenty of things have transpired since then, only some of which are well known. From his work with the Thailand government and his 4,000-pound stir fry, to his special relationship with the late Anthony Bourdain and why you'll frequently find him cooking at senior living communities, this is the untold truth of Jet Tila.

Jet Tia's parents opened the first Thai grocery store in the United States

The 1960s saw a wave of Thai citizens immigrate to the United States, many of whom settled in and around Los Angeles (via the City of Los Angeles). In 1966, two such Thai natives, strangers at the time, arrived in Southern California. The pair would eventually meet and later give birth to their son, Jet (via

It's not an exaggeration to credit Tila's cooking career to his family and their line of work. A few years after moving to the U.S., Tila's parents decided to open authentic Thai grocery store after being unable to find ingredients of their homeland. "Usually we shopped at Chinatown, but they didn't have the ingredients the way Thais cook," Tila's mother, Marasri Tilakamonkul, told NPR. "My husband saw the opportunity, so he decided that we should open the market right now." According to NPR, Bangkok Market, as it was called, was the first Thai grocery store in the U.S. 

In 1978, the family opened the Royal Thai restaurant. Tila spent much of his youth working at his family's business, creating what would be the foundation for his future career. "The stories of all immigrants really resonate with me, wherever [they're] from," he told USC Annenberg Media. "I would not be as successful as I am today if it wasn't for the modeling of my parents and also the culture that raised me."

Jet Tila became a chef after hosting successful cooking classes

Although Jet Tila grew up in grocery stores and restaurants, it was never a sure thing that he would have a career in the food industry. In fact, after years of working in his parents' businesses made him resentful, he desperately wanted out. "I got into my teenage years and I was just angry at that point because I had no social life," he told CBS News. "Once I had a driver's license, I drove away as fast as I could, dropped out of school, working odd jobs."

Tila eventually returned to the family business as manager of the Bangkok Market, where his future career as a chef unexpectedly began to take shape. "I had a group of non-Thais who just came back from Thailand and wanted to cook dishes," Tila recalled. "They were always asking, 'How do I make pad Thai? How do I make curry? How do I make this?' And they said, 'Why don't you just do a cooking class?'"

News of those cooking classes got picked up by the Los Angeles Times. "The next few days I got hundreds and hundreds of phone calls. That made me realize that there is a need for someone to communicate, not just write recipes. That was the moment that I was like, 'I could do this for the rest of my life.'" Tila went on to get formal training at Le Cordon Bleu — and the rest is history.

Jet Tila met his wife while teaching a cooking class

Cooking classes not only helped Jet Tila's professional success, they are also led him to a major personal milestone: meeting his wife, Ali. Tila continued teaching after becoming an established chef. It was at one of his courses (a knife skills course at Sur la Table, to be exact), where the future Mr. and Mrs. Tila first crossed paths (via Melissa's Produce). Ali was there with her mother, who was a big fan of Tila's. Mom and daughter continued taking more of Tila's classes, allowing Ali and the chef to hit it off.

Their relationship has turned out to be the perfect partnership. Although Ali always loved cooking, she was working as a special education teacher at the time she met Tila, at which point she pivoted towards her passion. She left her teaching job to attend pastry school, and now leads cooking demos on her own and alongside her husband. More notably, she manages the business side of Tila's vast culinary empire (via "Food brought us together," Jet told Long Island Weekly. "We met when I was teaching cooking classes over a decade ago and haven't stopped cooking together since."

In 2019, they teamed up to write a cookbook, "101 Epic Dishes," after fielding requests from fans. "Writing a cookbook is a challenge," Ali said. "But I feel so fortunate to be able to do what I'm passionate about with my best friend. It's a win-win for me."

Jet Tila was named the first Culinary Ambassador of Thai Cuisine

Jet Tila holds many titles we all know about: chef, television host, cookbook author, etc. But he also holds a far more exclusive title that most casual fans likely don't know about. In 2013, Tila was named the first ever Culinary Ambassador of Thai Cuisine (via LA Weekly). The honor was bestowed by the Royal Thai Consul General in Los Angeles, who sought the chef's help in promoting Thai cuisine in the U.S. 

In his ambassador role, Tila travels around the country on behalf of the Thai government, highlighting aspects of the cuisine through cooking demonstrations and media appearances. Last year, he started a YouTube series promoting healthy Thai ingredients (via Thai Trade Center USA). One culinary myth Tila tries to erase is that Thai food is strictly sweet. "Thai food is neither overly sweet nor overly spicy. It revolves around the idea of yum—the perfect balance of hot, sour, salty, bitter, and sweet."

Tila doesn't need to look far for helping in pushing Thai food to the forefront. His hometown of Los Angeles has one of the largest Thai communities in the country. "We have the highest concentration of Thais in L.A., which lends to the diversity of food," he said. "You can have a great regional Thai meal in Los Angeles, whereas you couldn't in the rest of the country. There are a lot of stars out there, but they tend to cook one style."

Jet Tila taught Anthony Bourdain about Thai food

As an expert in Thai cuisine, Jet Tila is often called upon to share his culinary knowledge with the public. Sometimes, this can even include other food experts, like none other than Anthony Bourdain. On two separate occasions, in two different cities, Tila gave the famous chef and television host an expert education on authentic Thai cuisine.

On an episode of "No Reservations," Tila guided Bourdain on a tour of Los Angeles' Thai Town neighborhood (via CBS News). "I told these businesses, 'I'm bringing this guy named Anthony Bourdain and you might get busy,' and we blew these places out." Indeed, that segment alone help make Thai Town a culinary destination.

A few years later, the pair were at it again, this time dining at the famous Lotus of Siam restaurant in Las Vegas, where Bourdain was filming an episode of "Parts Unknown" (via Las Vegas Review-Journal). "I got a call from him when I was in Texas, and he said 'I'm going to be in Vegas and I want to do Lotus [of Siam] with someone who has done the deal there.'" Tila recalled. "And I was like 'Hell yeah man, of course.'" Instead of common Thai dishes like pad Thai and chicken with cashew nuts, Lotus specializes in the northern Thailand cuisine. Tila guided Bourdain through a meal of puffed crispy rice salad with preserved pork sausage, jackfruit salad, and pork curry braised with garlic and ginger.

Jet Tila holds several Guinness World Records

Jet Tila is anything but timid, which helps explain his strong desire to break culinary world records — a feat he has accomplished several times.

In 2011, Tila and a group of students from UMass Amherst whipped up a batch of the world's biggest stir fry (via Bon Appetit). The 4,010-pound behemoth dish had to be cooked in a 14-foot-wide frying pan. Interestingly, Tila previously laid claim to the largest stir fry when he cooked a 1,805-pound version in 2004, but the record was broken the following year by a South African high school. "I will do anything insane when it comes to food," Tila told a local radio station. "If... I can come up with another world record idea, we're definitely gonna do it."

A man of his word, Tila returned to Amherst the very next year, when he and his student sous chefs broke another Guinness World Record. This time, the dish of choice was seafood stew (via The record-breaking 6,500-pound concoction consisted of, amongst other ingredients, 1,000 pounds of seafood, 1,137 pounds of potatoes, and 575 pounds of onions. Hundreds of students chipped in to eat the stew once it was done. (No word on if there were any leftovers.)

After taking a few years off to digest his unprecedented accomplishments, Tila was back at it in 2017. Along with students at New York's Purchase College, the chef rolled a record-long 504-foot California Roll (via Patch).

Jet Tila tried duplicating Pinkberry's success with a new snow cream dessert shop

Jet Tila is best known for his upscale cooking, but that doesn't mean he's above a good-old-fashioned frozen treat. In fact, he tried bringing such treats to the masses.

In 2013, around the same time frozen yogurt brands like Pinkberry were all the rage, Tila opened a dessert store of his own called Kuma, according to Nation's Restaurant News. Instead of hawking yogurt, however, the Las Vegas eatery sold what Tila called "snow cream." The delectable treat is a play off the Taiwanese dessert "xue hua bing," which is essentially a shaved ice-ice cream hybrid. "It's basically Taiwanese-style shaved ice, but I've created the term 'snow cream' to make it more broadly applicable," Tila said. "It's lighter even than gelato. It has about one-quarter the calories of ice cream."

To make the snow cream, Tila developed his own proprietary milk base, which included natural flavors and sugar. This base was frozen into blocks and shaved into ribbons upon a customer's order. The final result was a deliciously creamy treat in flavors like green tea, honeydew, coconut, açai, and pomegranate.

Tila had dreams of expanding Kuma into territories outside Las Vegas. Unfortunately, that never happened. In early 2016, the dessert outpost closed its doors, according to Eater Las Vegas. "A restaurant close by wanted the space so we gave it up," Tila told the media outlet. "Totally a business decision."

Jet Tila is a very familiar face on Food Network

The only thing that might be longer than Jet Tila's culinary resume is his list of television credits. The famous culinary personality has made countless appearances on dozens to shows over the past decade (via IMDb). His most prominent, and most frequent, roles have been on Food Network.

Tila first appeared on the network in 2013 as a judge on "Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off." Most recently, he's served as a captain on "BBQ Brawl: Flay V Symon." In between, the celebrity chef has made countless appearances on seemingly every major Food Network Show as a host, judge, or competitor. The list includes "Chopped," "Cutthroat Kitchen," "Iron Chef: America," "The Best Thing I Ever Ate," "Tournament of Champions," and "Guy's Grocery Games."

It hasn't all been smooth sailing for Tila on the Food Network, however. He's experienced a mixed bag of results as a competitor. On the top of his list of highlights is knocking off Rocco DiSpirito to win "Chopped All-Stars." On the other end of the spectrum, Tila lost to Masaharu Morimoto on "Iron Chef: America." While few could blame him for such a result, Tila does hold a rather dubious distinction on another Food Network competition show. "I think I'm the most losingest chef on [Guy's Grocery Games]." he recently told Mashed. "If you took absolute episodes to L's or W's, I probably won two to three times and been on the show 20 times."

Jet Tila owns a fast-casual chain of restaurants in Las Vegas

Between running his own kitchens, appearing on countless television shows, writing cookbooks, and spreading the gospel of Thai cuisine on behalf of the Thailand government, Jet Tila has a lot going professionally. But those outside Sin City may not know about one of his latest business ventures. In September of 2019, Eater reported that the famous chef would be opening a fast-casual restaurant in Las Vegas called the Dragon Tiger Noodle Co. The eatery became a reality 18 months later in March 2021. Two more locations, also in Las Vegas, opened later that year.

Dragon Tiger Noodle Co. offers a build-your-own dish style menu. Diners start with a selection of noodles that includes house-made ramen, udon, fire noodles, and shirataki. They can then add a broth, such as beef pho or chicken Chinese broth. Proteins like braised pork belly and grilled tofu are available, as are bok choy, bamboo shoots, and other vegetables. Finally come the toppings, which include scallions, cilantro, hot peppers, and Thai basil.

No word yet if Tila has plans of expanding Dragon Tiger Noodle Co. to the rest of the country, but we're keeping our fingers firmly crossed!

Jet Tila works closely with senior-living communities

Before Tila became a renowned chef and television star, he worked for food service companies, according to the Virginian-Pilot. During this stint in his life, he would often pick up extra work at night by cooking at senior living communities. This practice helped Tila develop a deep respect and admiration for the people living and working there. "I think most people have this negative association with senior living communities—it's kind of like where you store somebody—but they really emphasize quality of life," Tila said. "They invest their time, and that's why I've been there."

To this day, Tila is a frequent visitor at senior communities across the country, leading residents in cooking classes and demonstrations, or just putting together a delish hot meal for them. In 2021 alone, Tila visited at least three such facilities. In February, he led a Virginia Beach community in a teriyaki chicken cooking demonstration. He whipped up a similar meal for residents of the Eskaton Village Carmichael in Carmichael, California in August (via Foodservice Director). And just in time for the holidays, Tila competed in a latke competition at the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living (via the Jewish News of Northern California). "I've traveled all over the country, and I actually have the most fun at senior living communities," Tila told Eskaton Village. "It's a lot of fun to be able to draw upon their knowledge and history during these visits."

Jet Tila is a partner in the fast-casual chain Pei Wei

If it seems like Jet Tila is everywhere, it's because he kind of is, including at your favorite Asian restaurant. Since 2019, the culinary mastermind has partnered with the fast-casual Pei Wie Asian Kitchen chain, which has 120 locations across the United States (via Pei Wei).

When Tila came aboard, he was tasked with overhauling the company's menu and developing new signature dishes, including Spicy Korean BBQ Steak, Thai Basil Cashew Chicken, and Spicy Drunken Noodles. The latter dish has long been a staple of his career. "[It] has followed me in my career over the last decade," Tila told Restaurant Business Online. "Giada de Laurentis singled them out as 'one of the best things I ever ate' on her Food Network show."

Today, the Thai-Chinese chef is not just an employee, but a minority owner of the company. Even with a new title, however, his role spearheading menu innovation has remained the same. "There's lots of runway and potential to move the menu into more parts of Asia," Tila said. "When Pei Wei was part of P.F. Chang's, it had a Chinese soul. There won't be a complete 180-degree change, but customers will start to see more Southeast Asian, Korean and Thai influences."

Jet Tila was sued after his dog allegedly bit a child

Based on his very public-facing career, it's safe to say Jet Tila enjoys being surrounded by people. But according to a lawsuit, at least one member of his household isn't quite as friendly. 

TMZ reported in April 2021 that Tila was being sued after his dog Halo allegedly bit a young girl. The suit claims Tila rented out the playground at the nearby school that both his child and the alleged victim attended. Halo, a Belgian Malinois, was leashed to a picnic table. At one point, Tila's wife Allison "choose to relinquish personal control," as the lawsuit phrases it. The young girl then "gently went up" to the dog, at which point Halo attacked, leaving a gash on the child's nose. Her parents claimed the injury will cause a permanent disfigurement to her face. The lawsuit also claims that Tila knew the dog could be aggressive and may be a danger to others.

According to a post on Tila's Facebook page, the chef and his family welcomed Halo home in April 2020, less than 18 months before the alleged incident. A previous Facebook post claimed the dog was being trained by a retired Navy master at arms dog handler prior to going to live with the Tila family.