Jet and Ali Tila’s new book is designed to teach home cooks how to improve their cooking skills.
Tila is a former Food Network star who visited Forsyth Country Day School in Winston-Salem in 2017 in connection with FLIK Independent School Dining, which provides food service to the school. Tila grew up in a Thai family of restaurateurs in Los Angeles and has appeared on “Iron Chef America,” “Cutthroat Kitchen” and “Chopped.” Ali Tila, his wife and business partner, is a pastry chef who works at Red Bird restaurant in Los Angeles and has appeared on such shows as “Cutthroat Kitchen” and “Guy’s Grocery Games.”
Jet Tila’s first book was “101 Asian Dishes.” The couple’s new book, “101 Epic Dishes” ($21.99, Page Street Publishing), aims to make readers better cooks. “Our goal for this book is to take you deeper into the why of cooking,” they wrote in the introduction.
Every one of the recipes was chosen to teach a technique “similar to something taught in culinary school,” the Tilas say. “That means you will have learned 101 new techniques by the time you cook through this book.”
A Brussels sprouts recipe teaches about roasting. A steak recipe teaches about searing. A green-bean recipe shows the advantages of blanching. An apple-pie recipe unlocks the secrets of flaky pie crust.
Notes about each recipe provide some background on the dish and about the technique involved.
“The more you cook, the more you’ll start to see patterns of ingredients in the recipes,” the Tilas say. “Oil, garlic and aromatics usually go together,” because they are cooked together. “Proteins are usually prepped, patted dry and seasoned.” Eventually, they say, readers will look at recipes as formulas, or variations of formulas, which will eventually make them faster and more efficient in the kitchen.
Despite the emphasis on teaching, “101 Epic Dishes” does not feel like a lesson book. The recipes — most of which are based on common, popular or classic dishes — incorporate the lesson in an often seamless way, so people may feel as if they’re just cooking dinner instead of going to “school.”
The book has 10 chapters. Major proteins, such as beef and seafood, get their own chapter. Other chapters focus on the type of dish.
Entree recipes include shortcut Korean short ribs “worth showing off,” Sunday-night chicken Parmesan, Coca-Cola carnitas, and crispy-skin salmon with lemon-caper yogurt sauce.
Grain-based carb dishes include arroz con pollo, spaghetti carbonara and “perfect-every-time” pizza dough and pepperoni pizza.
Among the salads are BBQ and Ranch Southwest chicken and fresh fruit with honey-citrus-mint dressing. Sandwiches include a pork banh mi with pickled vegetables using store-bought pate as a condiment spread. Dips and spreads include classic hummus and baked brie in puff pastry with apricot jam.
The vegetables chapter includes fresh sweet corn pudding, flash-grilled asparagus with lemon zest and creamed spinach with bacon.
Among the egg and breakfast dishes are blueberry-ricotta pancakes, French toast with almonds and strawberries and fried chicken and waffles. There’s also a puff-pastry tart that transforms the standard bacon-and-eggs breakfast.
Sweets include chocolate-swirl banana bread, lemon meringue bars with raspberry jam, vanilla souffle with fresh berries and whipped cream, and grasshopper brownie bars.
Practicing these recipes, the Tilas say, will improve cooks’ skills and knowledge “exponentially.”
And, that, they say, is when you really start to have fun in the kitchen.