Having grown up in LA, the name “Jet Tila” wafted around a bit like an urban legend. I kept hearing his name, but had never tasted his food or even known what that food might look like. Until one day I had the opportunity to attend a private dinner put on by KCRW host and Angeli Caffe chef/owner Evan Kleiman. She and Jet took over a small, unassuming Thai restaurant in a strip mall on Vermont Avenue. With two long tables, the 30-or-so of us consumed the entire space and what ensued was a crazy parade of intense, unfamiliar flavors shepherded by Jet. Sure now he’s got his million-dollar Thai Vegas temple and has his hands in several large-scale commercial ventures, but to me he’ll always be the pied piper of Thai food.
I caught up with Jet after his recent Bistronomics 1.0.
Carrie Kommers: Where are you now? What are you up to?
Jet Tila: In Vegas as we speak. I bounce around between Vegas, LA and New York. I work on two projects in New York. One is a home base for a company that I partner with called Café Spice. We do white labeling for Whole Foods. If you eat Thai or Indian food from the Whole Foods hot bars, that’s mine. The other one is Schwan’s Home Service frozen food. I know a lot of chefs would say it’s a sell out, but I think there are essentially three waves of Asian food: Middle America’s still in the Lo Mein-teriyaki territory; there’s the bleeding edge where things are changing and evolving (like in LA); and then there’s something in the middle. I’m trying to keep relevant in all three and be a businessman about it.
CK: Tell me what the term “Bistronomics” means to you?
JT: Bistronomics is relevant modern fine dining. Modern, not nouveau. Modern is where the American dining palate is right now. The category of food people know as fine dining is in decline. No one wants to spend two-to-four hours and hundreds of dollars per person any more. Bistronomics is the technique, the history, the connection to Escoffier, but without the expense of the pomp and circumstance. The two things that restaurant operators worry about are food cost and labor. When you have truffle and lobster and 100-year-old oil and a giant front of house brigade, you need to charge the customer $100 to $200 a head. Bistronomics is bringing it down to a bistro setting—a menu, a server, local ingredients, reasonable prices. An affordable way to dine “finely.” Only a select few can execute Bistronomics. It’s almost a birthright; you almost have to have grown up in a French or fine dining kitchen, working under some amazing chefs.