Second part of three parts, please start here with Part 1
Totally unknown nationally in 2007, Chef Tila was recommended by former LA Times OC writer Max Jacobson to Elizabeth Blau, Steve Wynn’s exclusive chef finder. As told in an old Las Vegas Food & Restaurants blog, when Jet first received Blau’s phone call he thought some one was messing with him. He didn’t believe it was Blau who actually called. Though after preparing nine Pan Asian dishes for a tasting for Steve Wynn, drawing upon his culinary experiences in many of Los Angeles different Asian communities (as well as his Chinese/Thai ancestry), Jet no longer was so incredulous. He had beaten out a number of nationally and globally recognized chefs who tested before him for this prestigious gig in this new restaurant Wazuzu in Wynn’s newest hotel & casino on the Vegas Strip.
Wazuzu under Chef Jet Tila’s direction was three restaurants in one with Japanese, Chinese and Thai chefs serving both Middle America and million dollar credit line players from Asian. He had to make both groups happy with both Americanized Chinese food alongside top of the line Asian cuisine. It was a tight rope he walked daily, and one of the hardest challenges of his career since service needed to be continuously done at a very high level. Only in Vegas, at that time, because of the costs could such an elaborate restaurant be built. Wazuzu has a $1.5 million dollar dragon sculpture on its dining room wall to wow and to attract..
Many of Wazuzu’s Chinese and Thai recipes were from Tila’s family and his many years in Asian kitchens. His mother's mother was his first cooking teacher and inspiration. Most of his Chinese cooking comes from her. Then there was one cook his family had at their restaurant named Lek who taught Jet most of his Thai cooing. Tila describes his ancestry as both Northern Thai (from the Chiang Mai region) and Southern Chinese. He speaks both Chinese and Thai.
The respective recipes for both of Chef Tila’s current ventures with the Compass Group and Schwans draw from his Vegas days and thus also hearken back to his roots and familial core; though the fifty or so recipes for the Compass Group’s branded Chef Jet’s Modern Asian are completely different than those recipes for the always expanding line of packaged retail items sold through Schwans.
Those fifty or so recipes for Chef Jet’s Modern Asian will be rotated through multiple build outs of this concept throughout Compass’s different divisions including Morrison (hospitals), Eurest (business & industry) and Bon Appetit (cultural & specialty) in these different food service sectors. This is an exclusive agreement with Compass. What distinguishes Jet’s concept from other Asian concepts out there like Panda is that this is a Pan Asian (not just Chinese) “evolved” concept meaning that it’s reflective of what people are eating today with vegetarian, vegan and whole grain options.
The Charleston’s kitchen thus serves several functions. Obviously one role is to put out the new updated menu that Chef Tila’s team created for the New Year (see related story “A New Menu a New Charleston”), and to also function as a commercial test kitchen for Chef Tila’s other ventures. Here at the Charleston, he’s developed those many different recipes for Compass and Schwans with a lot of menu testing and tastings. Additionally for the Compass Group’s concept, he shot the training videos at this location. Those videos establish comprehensive training standards for the Chef Jet Modern Asian’s operations.
Though The Charleston, a gastropub, isn’t part of Chef Tila’s Pan Asian brand, it falls under his umbrella and thus provides him an opportunity to be more flexible as well as diverse with his oversight of and input on The Charleston’s menu.
If all of the above wasn’t enough on the chef’s plate, Jet also does a lot consulting for national brands and is working on a new dessert concept that will debut “somewhere on the West Coast, maybe not LA” this year.
End of Part 2; please click here for Part 3 to continue