Measure and taste.
According to Chef Jet Tila, the best Asian cooking is based on simple principles and subtle techniques. Through two days of demonstrations and training in Cornell’s kitchens, Tila taught some of those principles and techniques to about 40 members of the Cornell Dining culinary team.
“You need to touch and feel the stuff; you need to practice,” Tila said, walking the chefs and sous chefs through the preparation of fried rice, siu mai dumplings, green curry, Mongolian beef with oyster sauce, and pad thai.
Tila is known nationally for his appearances on Food Network shows like “Iron Chef America.” He also hosts his own radio show and has partnered in launching several restaurant chains. He was named the inaugural Thai culinary ambassador in the United States by the Royal Thai Consulate and hosted Los Angeles’ first Thai Culinary Festival in September 2013.
Tila grew up in his family’s restaurant kitchens and markets in Los Angeles, learning the ancient traditions of Asian cuisine from his Cantonese grandmother. “There are artists, and there are artisans,” Tila said. “I am an artisan: My job is to go back through 1,000 years of chefs before me and figure out how they did it right.”
“Jet Tila’s visit to Cornell is part of our ongoing program to develop the skills of our dining staff,” said Gail Finan, director of Cornell Dining Services, who met Tila at a conference at the University of Massachusetts and invited him to Cornell. “As often as we can, we bring in outside chefs to give our staff new learning experiences. These visits broaden our staff members’ appreciation for the work they are involved in and let them know we appreciate that work as well.”
“It’s a phenomenal experience to get an outside perspective,” said Joshua Holden, a cook in Alice Cook House Dining Room. “We always have quality products, and it is always good to have someone come in and show you different techniques on how to utilize those products.” Holden said that he would take what he has learned to revamp some of Cornell Dining’s items, including its pad thai and curry recipes.
Jesse Dwyer, a graduate student in the field of hotel administration who is in the Employee Degree Program while working as a cook for Flora Rose House Dining Room, said that Tila’s hands-on teaching techniques were inspiring – as well as being part of his School of Hotel Administration training.
“Having Chef Jet here doing a demo and training builds our repertoire,” said Devon Langstaff, a cook in Carl Becker House Dining Room, who had started working at Cornell as a cashier. “It’s an amazing experience,” she added. “He’s very hands-on and makes it very comfortable for you to learn.”
Steve Miller, director of culinary operations for Cornell Dining, said that many of dining’s chefs and cooks start out as entry-level workers, working their way up. “Bringing in outside experts helps build their skill sets,” he said. “If you have passion, you can always find a way to move forward.”
What makes cooking for a university unique? The need for variety, said Tila. And because so many students are or will be well-traveled, “it’s important for us to be making authentic cuisine.” A university should consider its competition to be “the best restaurant in town,” Tila said. “My job is to bring the best Asian food into a university setting.”