As acclaimed chef, entrepreneur and Food Network star Jet Tila prepared to arrive at Blair Academy’s campus, even Mother Nature seemed excited. An overnight dusting of snow frosted the trees and grounds, casting a beautiful display on to the hilltop for the chef’s arrival. With a community of more than 500 hungry diners for lunch, beating Bobby Flay might seem less daunting than the pending lunch service, but with a bright and early start, the Los Angeles native got to work.
After meeting with Head of School Peter G. Curran P’27 ’27 and gearing up in his new Blair wear for a quintessential Arch picture, Chef Tila joined Blair Academy’s dining team to tour the Romano Dining Hall’s facilities and discuss the menu of some of his favorite recipes. Each station featured a special recipe—like Vietnamese Banh Mi and Papaya Salad Thai—that can be found in Chef Tila’s cookbooks, “101 Asian Dishes You Need to Cook Before You Die” and “101 Thai Dishes You Need to Cook Before You Die.” Before the doors opened for the lunch rush, Chef Tila gathered the dining hall employees for a team huddle and shared that before he reached celebrity status, he was once in their shoes as a food service chef.
“I know what you do, I’ve done what you do and I appreciate all the hard work,” Chef Tila said. “I’m here, but the hundreds of hours to get here were because of you. Know that it is very much appreciated.”
As lunch commenced, the dining hall filled with the smells of tang mein, Mongolian beef and sticky wings fresh out of the oven. Students lined up eagerly to sample it all and meet Chef Tila. He slipped effortlessly from the role of celebrity—honoring every request for a photo in a sea of students, faculty and staff—to teacher, as he educated a crowd that gathered for a cooking demo on aromatics, cooking techniques and foundational flavors before serving up a sampling of his Thai pineapple fried rice.
After the Blair community got their fill of tantalizing cuisine, Chef Tila graciously devoted time to meeting with students one on one. Oracle writer Gray Beall ’26 and Blaircast podcast members Gerald Negvesky ’26 and Gavin Santoro ’24 had the opportunity to interview him for their respective publications about his career and passion for cooking. During these quiet conversations, Chef Tila candidly shared the story of his professional rise, recounting the challenges he faced in school and how the time his grandmother spent imparting traditional Asian cooking techniques to him ultimately changed his life. He offered insights into how he manages the pressures of competition cooking, the challenges in the culinary industry and his approach to infusing his tradition and culture into modern cooking.
Alongside collaborations with Blair’s food service provider FLIK Independent School Dining to visit schools like Blair and partnering with Pei Wei Asian Kitchen to share his vision of cooking as storytelling, Chef Tila boasts an impressive career. His television appearances include “Iron Chef America,” “Chopped,” “Guy’s Grocery Games” and many more. He is also the host of “Ready Jet Cook” and hosts his own radio show on KLAA in Los Angeles. Catch him next time on Food Network’s “Tournament of Champions” February 18.