By Pooja Jaisinghani
SPECIAL TO THE CHRONICLE
Food Network fans, guess who we found in the back of Hofstra’s Student Center kitchen on Thursday, Feb. 11? Our campus culinary community invited celebrity chef Jet Tila to cook an authentic Thai lunch consisting of spicy green curry and jasmine rice, because they knew our fabulous dining facilities were becoming routine and dull to our palates.
When he isn’t cooking Alton Brown’s cutthroat sabotages or judging Ted Allen’s “Chopped,” you can find this Thai cuisine ambassador doing just about anything and everything on the food industry continuum. Partner of Compass Dining Group (the nation’s biggest food service company and Hofstra’s dining services provider), owner of The Charleston and Pakpao Thai restaurants, Webcast media host of “JetFuel,” curator of Try the World Thailand Box, partner of LA’s Melting Pot Tours and much more, Jet Tila is far more than just a Food Network rock star. We went behind the scenes in the kitchen to give you an exclusive on Jet Tila that you wouldn’t see on your television screen.
PJ: What brings you to Hofstra University?
JT: I’ve had a long relationship with Compass Group and I’m happy to call them partners. I only have a certain number of days a year I can allot to travelling and Compass picks the schools I go to. Hofstra is a very important institution in its relationship with Compass Group and because it’s important to them, it’s important to me. On top of that, I really think feeding our millennials at college is important because college kids are the future. You guys are going to be out there running the country and the world soon. It’s nice to bring you real cuisine.
PJ: I wanted to talk to you about the authenticity of Asian cuisine. In the restaurant industry, “fusion” foods are big right now. There are many ingredients that were not traditionally used in authentic Asian food, such as soy sauce, that have become common. What ingredients take away from the authenticity of Thai cuisine?
JT: It’s really a question of what is authentic to you versus me. Thai food has been in America since 1966. For an American, no matter where they’re born or what color they are, if their first experience with Thai food is in America, that is what is authentic to them.
PJ: What about authentic to the culture? I’m curious about the ingredients that make a meal Americanized.
JT: I think we’re at a time and place in the world where ingredients are accessible globally. It’s our palates that have changed. If you ate Thai food in America, and you only went to Thailand once and you spent 90 percent of your life in America, that is the flavor that would be authentic to you. That flavor might be based upon something prepackaged or something more sweet because Americans favor sweet more since they can’t handle spices. But what if you took that American who now has access and the ability to go to Asia and you give them something that was authentic to Thai people and then you turn them off from the cuisine because they can’t handle the spices. You polarize them and it defeats the purpose of what we do. So I have to cook what is authentic to the guest. There are people like us, who have access and are able to travel, but for me, if I were to cook Thai food for someone in Kansas as an intro so that he could be curious and not turned off because the food is too spicy for him, I would have to be careful in choosing something that he can become seasoned in to the cuisine. I give him the choice to say, “Oh I don’t want to eat that sweet food because I’ve already done that.” He graduated from that and came to that point on his own. I don’t think fusion is a bad word if it’s done respectfully.
PJ: What do you think are the food trends for the future for Asian cuisine?
JT: People are going to be eating less meat. We finally understand the environmental impact of the big box farms and just eating meat in general. You’re going to see that transcend into every culinary country or type of cuisine. We’re going to eat cleaner, and specifically among Asians, I think we’re going to continue to go hyper-authentic because everyone on the continuum of food is going to chase authenticity – whatever that means to them. I also think that we are going to get back to fewer ingredient dishes and have very simple things done correctly. For example, when it comes to vegetables, they are the most delicious things but no one knows how to cook them.
Jet Tila, celebrity chef, culinary ambassador and restauranteur gave students a great meal at Hofstra and for provided them with a deeper knowledge of all things food – knowledge that could not come from the Food Network.