On Jan. 25, 101 Thai Dishes You Need to Cook Before You Die: The Essential Recipes, Techniques and Ingredients of Thailand hits shelves. The cook book overflows with the Southeast Asian culinary prowess of celebrity chef and bestselling author Jet Tila, who teamed with longtime friend and fellow chef Tad Weyland Fukumoto to deliver on the mouth-watering recipes. Ahead of the book’s release, Tila spoke with Angeleno about writing, collaborating with Fukumoto and his favorite recipes.
You’re no stranger to writing cookbooks. What is your favorite part about these projects?
I love to cook but I’ve always felt teaching is the most fulfilling thing I do. Knowing that I’m giving people the tools, the stories, recipes and knowledge brings me deep joy. I get messages of thanks everyday from people that are happy to learn new dishes and techniques. Writing has always been tough for me with ADHD and writing books has been a great exercise. It’s also a chance to collaborate with talented folks to make this thing of beauty that can unlock a ton of deliciousness.
What’s it like switching gears from chef to writer? Obviously your culinary expertise is essential here, but I can imagine tackling a cookbook requires its own specialized approach.
I definitely put on my teacher hat to write books. Cooking and teaching folks how to cook are totally different muscles. Cooks tend to feel their way through dishes and have been doing it so long they forget the process, the step by step and how each step is it’s own muscle. It takes a scaffolding approach to be an effective recipe writer, in my honest opinion. So I break it down step by step. It’s important to make it approachable and to find the balance between too many words and not enough to explain things. I also dictate most of the book onto the page, then do a few more passes.
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Each of your cookbooks features 101 recipes. Why that number?
I’ve been teaching cooking for over 20 years and my wife was a teacher. It’s a play on college classes. I also think it’s a great amount of recipes for each book. All my books should be your kitchen companion for years to come. There are dishes for every meal period, stand alone dishes for one-plate meals, sweets and they are great for all ability levels.
Do you have a favorite recipe in 101 Thai Recipes You Need to Cook Before You Die?
My favorite are my two northern dishes, Khao Soi and Hung Lay Curry (northern pork belly curry), because they were family recipes passed down. My mom’s side is from northern Thailand. But I think this book is full of must-tries from OG Pad Thai, cashew chicken, crispy morning glory salad, street style pork basil and so many more.
You partnered with Tad Weyland Fukumoto to perfect these recipes. Can you tell us more about your partnership?
Tad and I have been cheffing together for over 20 years. He’s been a part of every restaurant project, book, and anything food related in the Team Tila world. He’s extremely detail oriented and I like to create grand plans. He’s like the COO and I’m the CEO. I’ll write the recipes, he’ll refine them and test them. We’ll do the final pass together.
How long did the entire process take from ideating to writing to publication?
We were talking about it for the last few years, but once the pandemic hit and it looked like I was going to be home for a while, that was the moment I knew I could write this book. I took a year to write, cook and test this book. Tad was in my COVID bubble, so we got to cook together for those two years. All collaboration with my editor and art team was virtual.
The book is described as opening up your Thai heritage. Can you tell us more about that?
I was lucky enough to be born into the first Thai food family in America. My parents opened the first Thai grocery store, restaurant, import company and Thai Agri-business in America 50 years ago. I was in the middle of the Thai food proliferation and saw it’s evolution. I worked every position in every family business before going off to French then Japanese culinary schools.
I’m really proud of this book and know it will help a lot of people unlock Thai food for cooks of all ability levels.
Photography by: Courtesy Jet Tila