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Jet Tila in the kitchen cutting into a bell pepper
Credit: Courtesy of Jet Tila

Chef, TV star, and cookbook author Jet Tila's parents immigrated from Thailand to Los Angeles 1966 with the first major wave of Thai immigrants to the United States. Though of Chinese descent, his parents helped bring Thai food to the country, opening its first Thai grocery store and some of its first Thai restaurants. 

Tila, too, has done his part in introducing people to Asian food, beginning in his native Los Angeles. Even before attending culinary school, he hosted hosting backyard cooking classes. He helped the city's Thai Town gain recognition, giving tours to California-based PBS host Huell Houser and a number of chefs, including Anthony Bourdain on an episode of "No Reservations." And now, Tila breaks down Asian cooking on his Emmy- and James Beard-nominated show, "Ready Jet Cook." Download it for free at Apple PodcastsSpotify, and anywhere else you listen to podcasts beginning November 18.

Tila's conversation with Homemade host Martie Duncan touches on technique, including flavor profiles and dry heat versus wet heat. He spills the secret to perfect stir fries, the ingredient that transforms pad Thai, and where he would move for the food alone. He also shares stories about cooking with his grandmother, whose Cantonese soup remains one of his favorite comfort foods, as well as his wife and kids. 

About Jet Tila

Raised on Thai and Chinese food, Chef Jet Tila studied French technique at Le Cordon Bleu. He went on to work at the Los Angeles Times as a culinary intern, where he promoted Thai cuisine and culture. Before hosting "Ready Jet Cook," Tila appeared on "Iron Chef America," "The Best Thing I Ever Ate," "Chopped," "The Early Show" on CBS, the "Today Show" on NBC, and more. He is the author of 101 Asian Dishes You Need to Cook Before You Die: Discover a New World of Flavors in Authentic Recipes and 101 Epic Dishes: Recipes That Teach You How to Make the Classics Even More Delicious.

Follow him on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, and check out his website.

Episode Transcript

MARTIE DUNCAN Welcome to Homemade, I’m Martie Duncan. This podcast is all about eating, cooking, family, and tradition. It’s the stories we tell and the memories we make in the kitchen. And it’s also learning how to improve your cooking, and that starts with technique.

My guest today is a Food Network star. You've seen him on "Beat Bobby Flay," "Guy's Grocery Games," and "Guy's Ranch Kitchen." And you probably saw him battle Morimoto on "Iron Chef." He is a legend in culinary TV. And it all started in his grandmother's kitchen. 

Welcome to Homemade, Chef Jet Tila.

JET TILA Wow, what an intro. Martie, thank you so much. It's great to be here.

MARTIE Well, we're so excited to have you. You know, this is a show that helps us all to, you know, kind of learn about other people and other cultures. And the main reason I wanted to ask you to be a guest on the show was when I heard you talk about storytelling through food. And then I said, "Oh, I got to have Jet on." I mean, that's so important to me, too. So you're Thai by way of China. So Chinese descent. 

JET Yup. 

MARTIE Your parents came to America from Thailand. And as I understand it, you're the first family of Thai food here in America. Your family started one of the very first Thai restaurants and Thai groceries in, well, in California, for sure, but I think in the United States. Is that right?

JET Yeah. I think it's a good story that I think people should know. I mean, the story of Thai food in American, in summary, is basically this. In 1966, there was the first large immigration of Thai people into the states, and they landed in Los Angeles, California. So my family is in that first generation of Thai people. And we started the first official Thai grocery store in the history of America. We started some of the first Thai restaurants.

If you've ever been to an ethnic market or a mom and pop restaurant, I was the kid bouncing, either doing homework or washing dishes or — yeah, that was it. So I worked every single position from three age three until age 16 in grocery stores, restaurants. We were in the agriculture business, so I spent a lot of time in central California and down in Mexico. 

At the time it was miserable. I mean, let's be real. We can romanticize it all we want. But when you're a child of the family business of immigrants, you work in that 24 hours a day. So I really didn't understand how lucky I was probably until my late teens.

MARTIE I talked to Marcus Samuelsson a little bit about that, too. He said in his interview that when he would go to his grandmother's house, he would go with the full on knowledge that he was there to work in the kitchen. 

JET One-hundred percent.

MARTIE He loved it, but he said it really wasn't until much later that he understood what that brought to his life now. 

JET Yeah, labor laws would not apply to blood. So there's no such thing as child labor when you're talking about your kids, so. 

MARTIE I think it's good for the kids. I gotta say, we all started working when we were really young. And I don't think it hurt us at all.

JET Work ethic must be learned and it must be modeled. No matter what you do in this career, culinary or any career, the only way you're going to become anything is to work your butt off. 

MARTIE And then some. 

JET And then some! You know? It hurts. 

MARTIE Work your butt off and do it again. And again. And again.

JET Yeah. Yeah. 

MARTIE Oh, yeah. It's not easy. People come up to me a lot of times and say, "I remember you from TV and that looked like so much fun." I said, "I'm glad it looked like fun because it was hard."

JET Exactly. 

MARTIE It was really hard. It was fun in a way, but very hard. OK. Which brings me to a couple of questions about your family. Before we get into the cooking and the shows and the whammies and — I want to hear about — OK. So you're married. 

JET Mhmm. 

MARTIE You have children. Are your kids growing up in the kitchen like you did? Are they cooking with you? Are they learning and helping?

JET You know, I married a phenomenal woman who is a special ed teacher, who loves to cook more than I do, by the way. I mean, all you have to do is check out her social to see that. So, yes, our children are cooking with us that in a very different context than when I grew up. Again, having food businesses was one thing, but we cook probably a good 50 percent of our meals at home every week. We have a very traditional family and we would do a lot of cooking. Ali does all the baking and the deserts.

So, yes, it's a little different because we're not closing shop at 11 p.m. and they're asleep on the banquette and we're scooping them up. But absolutely, the tradition continues. I'm happy for them to do whatever they want. But for right now, while they're in our house, you know, cooking is one of the threads that weaves us together.

MARTIE What would a weeknight meal look like in your kitchen for you and Ali and the kids? What would you make? 

JET I'll look in the freezer and pull out some steaks, maybe. And Ali will make like a budino or she'll bake some like soda bread to start. And she might whip up the salad. When I'll do the proteins, she'll do some of the starters. And another night could be making Asian food. I make fried rice quite a bit because it's a very practical, delicious, also good teaching dish. I've got some ingredients right now to make molé.

We grew up in L.A. Both Ali and I are native Angelinas and really proud of that fact. And one of the reasons we are is because we grew up in these pockets that are so culturally diverse that it's not an influence when you grow up. It's just the thing you grow up in. So...

MARTIE Like Southern food for me. 

JET That's exactly right. 

MARTIE Completely understand what you're saying. So, you do culinary tours in Thai town. And that's how you kind of got your springboard into food TV, right?  Through that opportunity to take Anthony Bourdain around Thai town?

JET Oh, man. Yeah. I'm trying to give you this summary because, again, I could write books about the stories. In 1998, I was leaving culinary school, and my first job was at the L.A. Times. And this will circle back to Thai town. I was a culinary intern. I got to write articles and test recipes and part of my beat, obviously, because was to bring Thai food into this amazing periodical that I worked at.

I suggested to our editor that we do a holiday party in Thai town. And Thai town didn't exist yet. We were officially recognized in the year 2000. So, I told Russ Parsons, and we did this dinner in Thai town and he said, "This is a thing, Jet. Like, you need to write about it and talk about it." So Thai town gets officially recognized in the year 2000. Do you know who Huell Howser is, Martie? 

MARTIE No, I don't think so.

JET He's a local PBS legend in Los Angeles. He hosted these California like, you know, "you didn't know this about Cali" or "you didn't know this about Los Angeles." And if you go to YouTube, I think the year 2000, there’s this 20-year-old clip of me taking Huell Houser through Thai town. And he had a big following in the West Coast. Ten years later, this Thai town tour — Thai town gets really big. And then I start taking big VIPs, people who come through L.A. That could have been through the Thai government or that could have just been culinarians. Because of my exposure in the L.A. Times, I knew a lot of local chefs. So I became kind of the local tour guide for them. That goes national. Later in the 2000s, Anthony Bourdain through Jonathan Gold, actually. Bourdain says, "Gold, take me through Thai town." And Gold says, “No, I'm not the guy. Jet Tila's the guy." 

MARTIE That was your intro. You'd already gone to culinary school. You had already worked in your family businesses all the years and kind of rebelled and said, "Man, I don't want to be any part of this." And then changed your mind and decided, "You know what, I want to be a part of this, so I need to get my act together and get the education I need to support myself." So you went to culinary school, you went to Le Cordon Bleu. So you studied traditional French cooking. 

JET That's correct. 

MARTIE Infused with what you'd already learned in your Thai grandmother's kitchen. Now you're working at a paper, developing recipes. And that was your springboard to television, that episode with — which one did you did do with Bourdain?

JET Yeah, "No Reservations" L.A.

MARTIE The first one, yeah. 

JET "No Reservations" L.A. The first one. And that was my big springboard into kind of national television.

MARTIE But weren't you doing cooking classes in your backyard at one point? And aren't you kind of doing those now at these virtual hangouts and cooking classes? 

JET Isn't that amazing how in 22 years everything comes back? So pre-culinary school, I'm working at my family's grocery store. And I have this group of really great regulars that are non-Asian. "How do I make Pad Thai? How do I make this? How do I make all the Thai favorites?" So I would verbally tell them and then I would give my recipe and they're like, "Hey, do a cooking class." And I'm like, who the heck wouldn't come to a cooking class?

Well, flash forward to — this is pre-L.A. Times. So Barbara Hanson, who had the ethnic beat at the L.A. Times for 30-something years, who is a mentor and a friend, back then was just this revered writer. I just put these little Post-it note notification at this little grocery store in East Hollywood. She comes in and she writes an article about these little cooking classes that I was giving, and it made the front page of the L.A. Times. 

MARTIE Wow. 

JET Yeah. I mean, this little kid out of his backyard, you know? And that prompted me to go to culinary school because I knew what I knew. I knew Asian food. I knew Thai food and Chinese food really well. But one thing that's fascinating about culinary school, the French, as you know, they have formalized every technique, every tool, every method. So going into French culinary school really taught me how to speak another language. Or use Asian cuisine, but I can say, well, it's very similar to a roux. It's very similar to this stock. It's very similar to textures. And so that's how that's how all those things connect.

MARTIE Well, that brings me to your cookbooks. You have two cookbooks. One is Asian dishes, 101 Asian Dishes You Need to Cook Before You Die.

JET So morbid. It was so cool at the time. 

MARTIE No, I like it. No, we have this thing in Alabama, 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die. But the funny thing was that, the first year that they put it out — I shouldn't tell this, but I'm going to. The first year they put it out, it was titled The 100 Dishes You Should Eat Before You Die in Alabama.

JET Wow, that's awesome. Yeah. So there it is, you know. Yeah. 

MARTIE So they had to rename it, but I always loved it. And people are like, "That’s a bucket list for people." It's great. But your next book is not just Asian dishes, it's all kinds of food. And you and Ali did that one together, right?

JET Yeah. So, Ali, like I told you, she was a teacher for many years. And through my career, since the 90s, you know, I've always moonlighted as a teacher. Although I don't have credentials like she does or master's degrees, storytelling and teaching has been a very natural part of what I do. 

MARTIE I can see that.

JET And we wanted to do a book that wasn't Asian because I don't want to teach someone how to cook a recipe. I want to teach them a technique. And then make it take that technique across recipes. And that's also play on words. One hundred and one is like school 101.

MARTIE I didn't get it, but thank you. Sometimes I'm a little slow on the uptake. OK, of that 101 tips and techniques and recipes, give us a couple of important Jet Tila tips for cooking. 

JET Well, on the Asian side, I think stir-fry is such a universally loved and not really understood concept. So, I break down stir fry, and I tell you, you don't need to wok. You need a pan that's at least nine to eleven inches wide and you need at least sides that come up two to four inches and you need to get that thing screaming hot and don't use olive oil. Use a neutral oil. And order of operations and knife cuts are crucial. So, I take you through that. 

And I really talk about how Asian food is really just balancing five flavors. It's hot, sour, salty, sweet, savory. And within each country, when you understand the ingredients that apply to hot, sour, salty, sweet, it's like a paint palette.  

MARTIE Hot. 

JET Hot. Sour.

MARTIE Sour, salty, sweet. 

JET Savory. 

MARTIE Savory. 

JET Or umami. That's it.

MARTIE OK. 

JET So the Thai palate is fish sauce for salt and palm sugar for sweet and Sriracha for spicy and sour. Whereas when I get in the Chinese now, you into soy sauce-ville, vinegar, chili garlic sauce. And if you’re in Japan, you're in a different kind of soy sauce, mirin. So again, I'm just teaching you the paints in the different countries and teaching you how to blend them all together.

MARTIE You're a big fan of chili paste, aren't you?

JET I like hot. It's messing with me as I get older, but I've always like hot.

MARTIE Tell us a little bit how we could incorporate chili paste into a favorite dish.

JET Yeah. You know, we all know Sriracha. You know, the rooster kind.

MARTIE Right.

JET But, you know, do a little deep dive on the interweb and you'll find that Sriracha is a province in Thailand. And like champagne, if you can track down true Sriracha, it's a very different flavor profile. So you know at the base level incorporating hot, again chilis. Right? Clean hot is chilies. Most chili sauces contain vinegar or some kind of sugar. So it skews with your palate. We're all trying to find balance in our cooking. Just know if this chili is chili, or is it chili vinegar, or is it chili vinegar and sugar. And then you'll understand how it all plays together.

MARTIE You're listening to Homemade. When we come back, Chef Tila walks us through his go-to, the stir fry. And we also talk soups. We'll be back right after the break.

I'm Martie Duncan, and my guest today is Chef Jet Tila. 

So if I'm going to cook, let's say I want to do a quick 30-minute, 15, 20-minute thing for the family. 

JET Mhmm. 

MARTIE So you're saying stir fry would be my go to.

JET I would say stir-fry for sure. And I could teach you Thai stir-fry, Chinese stir fry really quickly.

MARTIE Then teach me a Thai stir fry, really quick. 

JET Pick a protein. We'll do it really quick. 

MARTIE Chicken.

JET You got it. So I would take the chicken, slice it really thin. I would add onions, bells and get basil. I don't care if it's Thai basil. I prefer that, but if you've got Italian basil. Your balance of flavors now is fish sauce for salt and umami.

MARTIE OK. 

JET You've got sugar, just regular old sugar. And then if you — so you already have your fish sauce, your sugar and garlic and chili and you're done. So that's — I just taught you spicy basil stir fry, which is just a very simple street food. That could be chicken breast. That could be ground chicken. That could be beef. So, I just taught you a really fast Thai staple stir fry. If you got to Chineseville, switching out your fish sauce for oyster sauce because that is the fundamental, not soy sauce for stir fry. 

MARTIE OK. 

JET If you took oyster, which has sweet, savory, and salty in it already in one bottle, all that. And then that would be one fundamental stir-fry, just oyster sauce by itself with garlic and chicken, the same ingredients. Different sauces are different flavor profiles.

MARTIE So I feel like this is a part of the reason you do so well on the cooking shows because you're able to swap out ingredients in your head based on flavor profiles...

JET Yeah. 

MARTIE That you've developed. That makes sense to me now. Because you do really well on all these shows. You've been on "Grocery Games." You've been on the "Ranch Kitchen" with Guy. "Beat Bobby Flay" as a judge, "Chopped" as a judge. But you've also competed on a lot of these shows, not just "Iron Chef" with Morimoto. I just — wait a minute. I just I have to ask, was that not just absolutely terrifying?

JET I was really young, and it was the scariest thing in my life.

MARTIE Morimoto is imposing.

JET Yeah. It was the most thrilling thing in my life. And then again, when you talk about television, those pivotal moments. Bourdain, one. Morimoto, two.  

MARTIE Those were your two big moments. I know you're also tight with Bobby Flay. And you're tight with Alton Brown, too. 

JET Yeah.

MARTIE Yeah, but you surround yourself with people who are geniuses in the food that they do. But I can tell just from talking to you about the way you're swapping out those ingredients that this is why you're very good at...

JET Well, you're very kind. 

MARTIE At those games. OK, so what was the worse whammy that Guy ever gave you? What was the worst thing he ever made you do? I love his whammies! I think they're so fun. 

JET You know, I've never won "Guy's Grocery Games." And it doesn't matter that I've got, you know, this encyclopedic mind for food. It's totally different when you're in a moment. So the hardest game for me, to answer your question, is when you only can shop the center aisle, and you don't give me produce or fresh — I don't know how to do that. I just I've never done it. I would tell your fans to watch this next season of "Delivery" for some fun surprises.

MARTIE I saw a little bit of that. That looks so much fun. Can you tell us, just give us a hint about that? During the lockdown, when you all want to try to keep things going, tell us what you guys came up with.

JET So Guy and Hunter, Guy and Hunter Fieri, came up with this really genius but diabolical game where they loaded ingredients up from the store, ship it to our doorstep, and we have to battle each other via Zoom. And Guy still is imposing games and whammies on us. You know, it was a really brilliant game. And another thing I love about it, as a viewer, is I get to see into your Antonia's kitchen and house. I get to see Michael. 

MARTIE Right. 

JET I get to see Justin's house. So it's almost like Cribs meets food TV. Because you get a little insight.

MARTIE You know, I didn't think about it that way, but you're exactly right. I wish I could have done that one. It looked so fun. I got to tell Guy I want in for the next one. 

JET Absolutely. It's a great, great show.

MARTIE Yeah. I just thought they're ingenious when it comes to thinking of fun, new, exciting, food things to challenge. Not just all of us, but the viewers, too. 

JET Yeah. 

MARTIE You know, they make it so much fun. All right, you're out in L.A. If you and your family go on a holiday, where do you like to go? Like, I know right now we're getting to travel very much. But where do y'all like to go and what's your favorite food city?

JET We really love Hawaii as a family. I got to be honest with you.

MARTIE Why not? Oh, so... 

JET Yeah, exactly. 

MARTIE Amazing.

JET We have everything we want there. And, you know, we got Leonard's with the malasadas. You got Kono's. Again, I love Hawaii because it's very representative of the diversity of Asian cultures, as it pertains to America. 

MARTIE That's true. 

JET You've got a plate lunch. You got the Japanese influence. You got this Cantonese influence in the dim sum. You've got the Portuguese, so. 

MARTIE And the Spam.

JET The Spam is delicious. 

MARTIE Don't forget about the Spam. 

JET If we were unlimited resources, we'd probably have a house in Japan because I personally am fascinated by Japanese cuisine. Every prefecture is a different universe. And, you know, there's very few cultures that dedicate themselves so deeply into one thing, doing one thing perfectly for multiple generations. And it’s amazing to me. I think Ali would say Europe, if she had her pick. Spain, there you go. 

MARTIE I love Spain, as well. And it's a similar type thing to what you're saying. 

JET Hundred percent. 

MARTIE Generations and generations developing recipes and ways of cooking things that are passed down from family member to family member to family member. And that's part of what we want to do with the show, is to kind of keep some of these family traditions going. So that we don't lose all of them. Tell me about cooking in the kitchen with your grandmother. 

JET Yeah. And I'm going to give you the real answer. You know, I mean, and not the romanticized answer. Although, she absolutely was the most formidable influence in my cooking life, for sure. So at about the age of three, I had a lot of attentional issues as a child. I was a very difficult child. And she, I think, understood that I'm not going to learn much from books and math and reading. So she stuck me in the kitchen with her, right next to her hip at three years old and just focused all that crazy energy I had into tasks.

So, peel this. Cut this. Taste this. And then that becomes peeling becomes cutting. Cut this. And that becomes cooking this. And we had field trips every day. She was my primary caregiver for a long time. And we'd get on the bus to Chinatown, and we'd eat dim sum. We'd go to grocery shopping. And she played mahjong for a few hours. And then we'd come home and we'd cook dinner together.

MARTIE Wonderful. 

JET And over the course of thousands of meals and thousands of lessons — she was also a natural teacher. She was mean as heck, by the way, which all the things I really needed. I needed focus. I needed to learn a trade because I wasn't a book learner. And I also needed discipline. And she gave me all these three things, but man, she was one of the meanest women I've ever known. And that's what I needed at the time. So I have a very fond place in my heart for her.

MARTIE Absolutely. I can see absolutely why. And I think all of us need that. 

JET Did you ever watch the Disney short, Bao? You should really watch it. It's about this kid who goes with his mom. But it wasn't that touchy feely, soft version. It was the tough, what I needed version.  

MARTIE Tough love is the most important love sometimes. 

JET I agree. 

MARTIE So what would you make with her? Like is there something you make now that is inspired by those days in the kitchen with your grandma?

JET My grandmother was Cantonese. And what people don't know, that Cantonese Chinese people eat soup with every meal. It's a tradition, where you would make a soup, And you'd probably make like a stock, like either pork stock or chicken stock, primarily. And she was a master of making soups. So she would roast the bones and roast, you know, the — well, I didn't know what aromatics were, of course, until I went to culinary school. So she would take daikon radish and ginger and all these things. And so I made a very simple pork and winter melon soup just a few weeks ago. Because, you know, COVID, this lockdown, gives us a lot of anxiety. And I think I just needed a little piece of Gramma's soup.

MARTIE I can get you and everybody else that bought up all the yeast during the pandemic. Everybody was looking for that. Everybody was looking for that, Jet. Everybody wanted that touch of home and that sense that, hey, it's gonna be OK.

JET Yeah. 

MARTIE So tell me what it was again. It was...

JET Basically a lot of Chinese stocks are pork stock-based. 

MARTIE OK. 

JET So rib bones or neck bones, you roast those off to make a dark stock, a brown stock. Add some daikon radish, which is an aromatic. Some ginger and garlic, which is an aromatic. You cook that down for a few hours and then you finish soup with that final flavoring, and it's usually a vegetable. And I used winter melon. You ever used a winter melon? It's a gourd.

MARTIE Never heard of it. 

JET Imagine the sweetness of zucchini multiplied by 10. 

MARTIE OK.

JET It's got that earthy sweetness. So you basically the final product is just a bowl of soup with riblets and winter melon. And it's a very simple soup. You eat it with rice. Like, yesterday's rice put into soup makes a rice porridge of some sort. So...

MARTIE I love that. I always put rice in my soup. I always do. And you know, I always wondered why in every single Chinese restaurant you ever saw, there was always two or three soups. And so now I know. 

JET That's it. Cantonese Chinese. We eat soup with every meal. 

MARTIE So on your off day, when you're kicking around L.A., where might we find you for something really delicious? 

JET Oh, easy, easy. So we try to eat Langer's pastrami once in a while. We've got the best Mexican food in America here. So between Marisco's, Halisco's, and — yeah, Carnitas Momo. So we took Bobby on this tour, this cool little taco tour, and we'll eat Thai food. So between Latin food, Thai food, and some comfort food. 

MARTIE So your book, 101 Epic Dishes, the one that you and Ali did together, is not just Asian food. It's all kinds of food, but it's technique driven, not just recipe driven. Tell me a little bit about that.

JET Yeah. If you've watched me for any length of time, I'm really a fan of "teach a man to fish versus give him fishes," right? I need to teach someone a fundamental technique. Like, if I teach you how to roast, you can roast anything from a prime rib to vegetables, the beginnings of your roast can turn into a braise. I am all about teaching someone a technique that can be translated throughout their entire cooking repertoire.

It's very culinary school light. So you're gonna be able to walk away reading this book going, "Oh, my God. Like, I get how chefs think about food." And that'll make you faster. That'll make you more efficient. It'll just make you those make you a better cook. That's the goal.

MARTIE I do remember hearing you say in an interview somewhere that there are really only two kinds of cooking techniques. Tell us about that.

JET There's two types of heat that you apply to food, period. This is the Bible. You're either dry heat or you're moist heat. So dry heat is roasting, grilling, sauteeing, baking. And then there's a deep frying, believe or not. And there's moist heat. There's braising, boiling, steaming. So if you could start to separate fundamental techniques into just kind of categories, I think it just makes you a better cook. Now, there's combination. Braising is where you brown the first and then you add a liquid later. And once you start understanding what each of those techniques does to the food, it makes your food better. 

MARTIE Right. 

JET After that, it's seasoning. 

MARTIE Yeah, I think a lot of people miss that about the braise. You know, making sure you get it good and brown and that that's where the flavor develops. Because if you just put something in liquid and cook it, it's not a very appealing looking thing and you haven't really developed a lot of rich flavor. I used to wonder why my mother would sear off like the pot roast before she put it in there. I'm like, "Why do you have to do that? Just gonna stick it in the oven and cook it. You know, in that Dutch oven, why do we have to cook it first?" She said, "That's where you get the flavor."

JET And your grandma and my mother didn't know the science behind it. But they knew it was important. 

MARTIE That's right. 

JET And that's hopefully, we can impart a little of the science and the whys, you know what I mean? 

MARTIE So I think I know the answer to this but if you weren't a chef, you'd be a teacher, right?

JET No, no, no.

MARTIE What would you be?

JET I'd be a police officer or in the military.

MARTIE What? Jet, did you know I used to be a police officer?

JET No way, were you really?

MARTIE Oh, yes. 

JET That is amazing. My brother's a police officer, so.

MARTIE I wondered where the tie into the canine organization was. I saw you post something about that recently. Jet's got a charity he supports, it's called Canines for Warriors. And it helps soldiers, military personnel with PTSD rehabilitate and rejoin and get some sort of normalcy to their life through a canine companion. Tell us a little bit about that charity, Jet.

JET When I was a kid, I was surrounded by a bunch of guys that either were military or police. And they all went off and either did one or the other. And I always kind of felt I was missing out. So, as I established myself in my career, my mission is always to support military and police organizations and charities. So, Canines for Warriors does what you say. They try to save both human and canine. They take shelter dogs, train them up to be service animals. 

MARTIE Oh, wow. 

JET So you're saving the dog and you're hopefully helping the vet. You know, when these vets come back, the ones that we help are either have PTSD or military or sexual trauma or traumatic brain injury. And that's what Canines for Warriors is all about.  

And then the other one is Spike's Canine Fund. My buddy Jimmy Hatch is a retired Navy SEAL, and he basically raises money to make sure dogs that are police working dogs have bullet proof vests.

MARTIE Oh, great. 

JET So Spike's Canine Fund or Canines for Warriors. And these are all my buddies, these challenge funds all come from different soldiers from around the world. 

MARTIE OK. So what is your most popular recipe like? What are the ones that people ask you about the most?

JET God, I think I'm known best for drunken noodles.

MARTIE OK.

JET While I was cheffing in Las Vegas, Giada came through and wanted to put my drunken noodles on that "Best Thing I Ever Ate" show. So that helped me. That for sure is probably what I'm most known for.

MARTIE Give us a quick rundown on drunken noodles for somebody who's never had it.

JET Yeah, for sure. You know, they're the Chinese wide soft noodles. 

MARTIE Love 'em. 

JET But they're a Thai take on them. So, chili. I like shrimp. The flavor is sweet, salty, spicy, and with a really large hit of basil at the end.

MARTIE And the Thai basil is very different than that regular, like, uh, basil. It tastes more like licorice, doesn't it?

JET A very strong licorice taste. Yeah, it's an anise taste for sure. You know, I don't like black licorice and I love Thai basil. So, when you when you blend it with chili and fish sauce and all those Asian flavors, it really is becomes nice. 

MARTIE As you say that, I'm thinking, there's always something in Thai food, if it's done right, and I can never quite pinpoint what it is like a flavor. And now that you say that, I'm thinking, "Oh my gosh, it's because it was licorice."

JET Yeah. Thai people are masters of herbs. So every culture has its own mastery, and Thai people, we master herbs. So between lemongrass and Thai lime leaves and the galangal, we have this plethora of herbs that really we understand very well. And that's what that thing is, when you're like, "What is it?" It could be any of those herbs that we really understand.

MARTIE And you have a recipe for the best pad thai ever. And of course, pad thai is my favorite of all of thai food. 

JET Oh, good. 

MARTIE So tell me how I'm gonna make the best pad thai ever. Can I get that recipe somewhere?

JET For sure. Yeah. You could just go to chefjet.com and take it. Or go to our Food Network show, "Ready Jet Cook," and you'll learn how to make it step by step. 

MARTIE OK. So it's online? I can watch it?

JET It is. It is. Just Google, "Ready Jet Cook." It's a — you know we've got a James Beard and Emmy nom for that show, and it's a tiny little digital show, so we're really proud of it. The secret to pad thai is tamarind. Straight up. It really, just this fruit that grows in Thailand around the equator. It's got this deep sweetness and sourness to it. You'd back that up with, again, vinegar, fish sauce, and you use dried shrimp if you can get it. They're these little hallmark ingredients that make pad thai perfect, and dried shrimp is one of them. Because when you take bay shrimp and you ferment it a little bit, it creates even more umami and savoriness out of it.

MARTIE Yeah, I'm gonna have to watch that episode and then I have to get online and order all those ingredients because you know they're not gonna have them down here at the local Piggly Wiggly.

JET Yeah, exactly. But in this day and age, finally in Alabama, you're gonna be able to find it. You just got to wait two or three days and you'll be able to find everything.

MARTIE You've recently been exploring all these crazy squashes and different kinds of fruits. I don't even know what they are. I've never even heard of most of them. Like you said a minute ago, winter melon. 

JET Mhmm. 

MARTIE I've never heard of that. Never heard of it.

JET So, I think it's fun to — I think people, you know, want to, are always wanting to learn. Right? And my job is to demystify everything. So I want to bring green jackfruit and mangosteens and rambutans to the forefront. So I'm going to keep doing that series, so.

MARTIE I think it's great. 

JET Yeah. I think...

MARTIE And if you're ever gonna be on "Chopped," you better follow along.

JET Right?

MARTIE Because he will help you before you ever get there. He'll help you learn what those crazy things are going to put in that basket. 

JET Yeah. And be it Alabama or New York or L.A., I mean, grocery stores are getting everything from around the world. So, we want you to come to our channel, learn about something and go out and explore and have fun and eat something or cook something. 

MARTIE Well, on that note, I want to tell you how much we appreciate you being on with us today. Chef Jet Tila, you are a treasure and a wealth of information. We can't wait to see what you're up to the next. And for those of you listening, go pick up a copy of his book, 101 Epic Dishes. Cooking 101, basically. He's going to help you learn and give you techniques that you can transfer from recipe to recipe. 

Jet, thank you again. And thank you for looking out for our veterans and our police officers. That's real important to me, so I appreciate that.

JET You bet, Martie. Thanks for having me on the show. The best to you, your family, and your audience. Keep doing what you do.

MARTIE Jet Tila is a Food Network star and cookbook author. His latest book, with his wife Ali, is 101 Epic Dishes: Recipes That Teach You How to Make the Classics Even More Delicious. You can find it at your favorite bookstore and you can find a selection of recipes on his website, ChefJet.com. Jet is just like it sounds: J-E-T. You can also find him on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Next week on the show, we meet culinary television royalty. You probably know him best from his long-running series with the legendary Julia Child. I talk with Chef Jacques Pépin and his daughter, Claudine, about his new cookbook and their family traditions.

JACQUES PÉPIN At that time, she stood there and I said, "OK. Give me a spoon. OK, give me that. Help me wash the salad. OK." Take her out to the garden. I say, "Get me some parsley. No, that's chive. Taste it. No, that's parsley. That's chive. That's tarragon. And then take her to the market. And in the market they get me some pear. Make sure they are ripe. Did you smell them? You think they ripe? Those tomatoes, you think they are ripe? Come back to the house. That she helped me in the kitchen. 

MARTIE It is my great honor to talk to both of them, and it’s going to be a great conversation. Subscribe to the podcast so you don't miss it. 

Don't forget, you can find thousands of recipes, meal ideas, and cooking how-tos from the world's largest community of cooks at Allrecipes.com. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

This podcast was recorded in Birmingham, edited in Atlanta, and can be found wherever you get your podcasts.

Homemade is produced by Allrecipes with Executive Editor Jason Burnett. Thanks to our Pod People production team: Rachael King, Eliza Lambert, Tanya Ott, and Maya Kroth. Thanks for listening! I’m Martie Duncan, and this is Homemade.