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Celebrity Chef Jet Tila Sizzles with Stories, Spicy Food at AU

The Food Network veteran sliced and diced his way through a culinary presentation on Thursday and curated special menus, with proceeds helping to fight food insecurity on campus.

Chef Jet Tila at a cooking demonstration at AU.Celebrity chef Jet Tila makes a sweet soy sauce at a cooking demonstration at AU on March 30. (Jeffrey Watts/American University)

By Jonathan Heeter

Cold weather forced celebrity chef Jet Tila indoors Thursday afternoon. But the Food Network star, set for an event on the quad, brought the heat to Mary Graydon Center, whipping up spicy drunken noodles in front of a crowd of more than 100 during a cooking demonstration. 

Tila’s two-day visit kicked off with an invitation-only reception for alumni, faculty, and student leaders on Wednesday night at WCL. After the demonstration on Thursday, students enjoyed another taste of Tila’s flavor profile with curated menus at MGC’s Paper Lantern and the Terrace Dining Room. 

Five percent of sales went toward the AU Market and the SIS Graduate Food Insecurity Program. AU Dining and its partner, Chartwells, also matched the 2,127 student food swipes with donations to Eagles Helping Eagles, a program that provides meal swipes to students in need.

“[For] someone so involved in the art of food, it’s great [Tila] combines the platform of being involved in food and issues involving everyday people and how they eat,” said Jelinda Montes, SPA/BA ’24. 

The issue hits close to home for Tila. A child of immigrants in Los Angeles, he sometimes didn’t have enough to eat, even while his family ran restaurants. He recalled picking up cans of peanut butter and boxes of powdered milk, provided through government assistance. 

Chef Jet Tila at a cooking demonstration at AU.Chef Jet Tila prepares Thai drunken noodles at a cooking demonstration at AU on March 30. (Jeffrey Watts/American University)

“That’s the real irony of working with food but being in constant need,” said Tila, who has appeared on Food Network shows like Beat Bobby Flay, Chopped, Iron Chef America, Cutthroat Kitchen, and Tournament of Champions, the finale of which airs on April 9. “Without the help, we would’ve had a lot of hungry nights. I lived this; there aren’t many topics more important.” 

The event came together because of a long-standing relationship between Tila’s former employer Bon Appetit Management and its parent company, Compass USA, which includes Chartwells. Another of Tila’s collaborators, Schwan’s Company, provided some ingredients for the demonstration.  

While Tila prepared drunken noodles—a spicy Thai stir-fry—he showcased the charm and relatability required of a television chef. He chatted with the crowd, sharing stories and advice from the kitchen (add molasses to soy for a touch of sweetness), and asked them to make two promises: Never use olive oil when cooking Asian food (a neutral oil, like vegetable, is best) and travel the world and try everything. After the 30-minute demonstration, Tila spent more than an hour posing for pictures, answering questions, and signing autographs. 

Paper Lantern’s special menu included Mongolian beef, teriyaki chicken, and Thai basil tofu. The fresh dining experience continued in TDR at night with student lines wrapping around the dining tables. Stations included a Tila-inspired hot dog with kimchi, pickled radish, wasabi, spicy mayo, and nori; Penang beef curry, kimchi fried rice, and dumplings; and a tofu veggie curry. 

“We were thrilled to welcome Chef Tila to campus, where he could share his life story and his passion for cooking with our students and broader AU community,” said Bronté Burleigh-Jones, Kogod/BSBA ’91, MBA ’93, AU CFO and treasurer. “His active engagement and willingness to share his culinary expertise across the two days brought our community together and built a connection through a shared love of food."