These days the word “fusion” can be a loaded term, particularly in culinary circles. For years the term has been thrown around as a backhanded description for Americanized Asian dishes. Somewhere along the way the word seemed to lose its actual meaning—the combination of separate things to create a single entity. And there simply is no better word to describe chef Jet Tila’s culinary journey.
It all began with a young Tila stocking shelves in the grocery store his parents owned. After immigrating to the United States in the ’60s, Tila’s parents opened Bangkok Market in 1972. “It was the first Thai grocery store in the history of America,” Tila explains. “We existed in a time where fusion cuisine was gaining popularity. Every single famous restaurant and chef in Los Angeles, from Puck to Joachim at Patina, everyone shopped at our grocery store. It was the only place to get all of these things that were exotic back then—Thai curry paste, coconut milk, etc.
“I was stocking the shelves and I got to do all the deliveries to those restaurants,” Tila continues. “So I formed a very early relationship with so many of what became my peers. I was the kid that helped them with their Asian groceries.”
With his family running a series of restaurants in addition to the grocery store, Tila found himself working in a kitchen at a very young age. But his career didn’t follow a straight line—he needed to go out and have some adventures before finding his way. After dropping out of high school and taking some classes at community college, Tila was a typical 22-year-old desperately trying to find a way to pay the bills without working in his family’s restaurants. Then he came up with a novel idea.
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