Where, in the middle of one of the biggest United States cities, can one find celebrity chefs, five-star authentic Thai food and plenty of fun all in one place?
Known for his appearances on Iron Chef America, Chopped and No Reservations and his three Guinness World Records, celebrity chef and USC alumnus Jet Tila is bringing his expertise in Thai cuisine to Los Angeles this weekend at the first annual L.A. Thai Food Festival.
“I grew up with a passion for Thai food,” said Tila, a third generation immigrant from Thailand living in Los Angeles. “And I sat down one day and I said, ‘There’s got to be a way to make it available [to more people].’”
He took his idea for a Thai-centered food festival straight to the top and asked the Thai Consulate General for help with bringing authentic Thai food from different regions of the country to the United States.
This Sunday, Tila is hosting the inaugural Thai Food Festival. Titled BKK 2 LAX, the festival will feature culinary discussion panels, celebrity chef demonstrations, food and drink tasting and live entertainment.
The event, inspired by Tila’s passion for modern Asian and pan-Asian cuisine, is organized primarily by the Thai Trade Center Los Angeles, in partnership with the Royal Thai Consulate General, Tourism Authority of Thailand, Board of Investment, Agricultural Office and Thai Airways.
General admission guests will get an opportunity to see Tila present his “five fundamental flavors of yum,” which are sweet, spicy, sour, salty and bitter.
In addition to food booths and demonstrations, the festival will feature Muay Thai martial art demonstrations, Thai classical and folk dancing, traditional Thai umbrella painting, and fruit carving.
Tila is most excited to see the diverse collection of Thai dishes and chefs all in one place during the festival.
“This is the only time and the only place ever where Andy Ricker [a celebrity chef from Portland, Ore.] and my Thai grandmother … will be cooking authentic Thai food in booths right next to each other,” Tila said.
Tila chose Los Angeles to host the festival not only because of his personal connections to the area, but because it is considered the “77th province” of Thailand. Los Angeles is home to approximately 80,000 of the 120,000 total Thais in California, making it home to the largest population outside of Thailand. Los Angeles also boasts the first “Thai Town,” a neighborhood located in East Hollywood. Tila, himself, is a third generation restaurateur in Los Angeles, which is home to the best Thai restaurants in America.
In May, former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa presented Tila with the Dream of Los Angeles Award for “igniting a renewed interest in Pan-Asian cuisine through dedication to his Thai and Chinese roots, and his passion for the culinary arts in and outside the kitchen.” Tila also organizes and leads intimate “melting pot tours” of Thai Town, during which he reveals his favorite neighborhood gems to a small group of food lovers.
Tila was the first chef to bring Thai cuisine to the U.S. on a large scale. He has since appeared on dozens of episodes of various cooking shows and also opened the restaurant Wazuzu at the Wynn Las Vegas, in partnership with Compass Group, the world’s largest food service corporation. He is best known for his signature “drunken noodles,” a stir fried noodle dish made with broad rice noodles, soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic, meat, seafood, bean sprouts and vegetables. Tila’s drunken noodles became famous on a national scale when celebrity chef Giada DiLaurentis visited his Las Vegas restaurant and appeared on an episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate, naming Tila’s drunken noodles as her favorite dish.
Festival guests will have the opportunity to try his handmade khao soi, a curry noodle dish similar to Tila’s signature drunken noodles. Though drunken noodles are his best-known dish, Tila says his favorite thing to cook is “any meal [he] can enjoy with friends and family … no one dish takes the cake.”
Tila holds three food-related records in the Guinness Book of World Records, including the largest stir fry at 4010 lbs., the largest seafood stew at 6656 lbs. and the longest California roll at 422 feet.
As for aspiring chefs, Tila’s advice is to first get a degree from the Marshall School of Business.
“No B.S., this takes a lot more than cooking,” Tila said.
Festival visitors receive general admission passes for $50, giving them full access to the festival from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. For an extra $25, VIP visitors will receive preferred parking and early access.
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