School of Wok
On any given weeknight at Jet Tila's home in Los Angeles, the kitchen transforms into a classroom. "A tile becomes a slice, a slice becomes a dice," the chef and Food Network personality chants with his daughter, Amaya, six, as she chops up a carrot with eyebrow-raising precision. His wife, Ali, who was a special education teacher for 15 years before going to culinary school, puts a handful of peas in front of their three-year-old son, Ren, and asks him to count out 10. "There are so many skills you can incorporate into cooking," she says. "Math, listening, storytelling."
Tonight the peas and carrots are going into a veggie-packed fried rice with bacon, a riff on a recipe from Jet and Ali's new cookbook, 101 Epic Dishes: Recipes That Teach You How to Make the Classics Even More Delicious (out this month). The dish is a blank canvas for any combo of meat and veggies and a great way to get the kids involved in the cooking process—they can help decide what goes in. On the weekends, Jet and Ali pack up the family and head to the Hollywood Farmers' Market, but on weeknights they explore the produce aisle of their local grocery store. "Amaya likes to touch and smell things," says Jet. "And Ren wants to hold everything."
Once they get home, it's time to cook. Amaya grabs her plastic knife and gets to work. "She does this thing she calls 'knife-scooping,'" using the flat blade to shovel diced veggies into a bowl, says Jet. "She'll say, 'Have you ever tried cutting like this, Dad?' You know, after my 25 years in the kitchen!"
As Jet adds the bacon to the skillet, it spurs a memory. "My grandmother was my primary caregiver, and she bought bacon ends at the market because that's what we could afford," he says. "Every day, we'd take the bus to Chinatown, buy groceries, and come home and cook, and I'm excited to pass that down." And it looks like the lessons are sticking. "Amaya told her kindergarten class that she wants to grow up to be a cook," Jet says. "So that's freaking me out a little bit."
"Ali's been a teacher and I've been a cook," says Jet. "And we combine those life skills to really bond with and teach our children."
"The nice thing about fried rice is that it's really versatile," says Jet. "You can make it something really special or just use up things that you don't want to waste."
Bacon & Egg Fried Rice
Recipe: Try Jet Tila's Bacon & Egg Fried Rice
The Tila family digs in—and Rogue, their dog, hopes Ren will drop some bacon.
Cook the Book
For more tips, tricks, and recipes from Jet and Ali, pick up a copy of the couple's first cookbook, 101 Epic Dishes: Recipes That Teach You How to Make the Classics Even More Delicious.