PLATTSBURGH — Celebrity chef Jet Tila has given his stamp of approval to the campus eatery that bears his name at SUNY Plattsburgh.
“What turned out to be a pilot (project) is one of the best Chef Jets in the country,” he said, noting the steady flow of customers coming to the station in the Sundowner dining hall on a recent evening.
Known as the Chef Jet Modern Asian Kitchen, the dining station was chosen in the spring of 2013 to replace the Yan Can Cook franchise in the Sundowner dining hall.
Tila’s culinary history began when his family opened some of the first Thai restaurants in the United States during the 1970s. Following an education at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school and the California Sushi Academy, he combined high cuisine with a casual cooking style that led to appearances on television shows including “The Today Show” and “Iron Chef America.”
Described on Tila’s website as “fast-casual” dining, the Modern Asian Kitchen features rows of pre-heated cuisine from a rotating selection of Asian nations.
Along with emphasising the variety of choices available, Tila described the company’s cooking philosophy as a move toward traditional Asian preparation.
“It’s time to evolve Asian dining from the perception of fried nuggets and orange sauce into something more healthy,” he said.
Glancing at the counter, customers will find the familiar staples of teriyaki chicken, tofu and root vegetables. Yet rather than floating in pools of thick sauces, the foods are sprinkled with herbs and resting in steam-heated trays.
Tila said the company is also looking into incorporating vegan and other alternative diets into their menus.
Tofu dishes are offered daily, and the chef said the company is hoping to soon transition to using only gluten-free soy sauce.
“It can be very naturally gluten-free without sacrificing any flavor,” he said.
Tila said he couldn’t be happier with the rollout of the Plattsburgh station and praised the work staff for keeping it organized and operating efficiently.
It is one of 15 similar eateries operating in cafeterias throughout the United States, including the headquarters of companies such as Google, Cisco and Boeing.
The business is a partnership formed in 2013 between Tila and food-service company Compass Group.
Compass is the parent company of Chartwells, which manages dining options at SUNY Plattsburgh.
Stephen Duso II, senior executive chef for Chartwells at SUNY Plattsburgh, said the praise is appreciated and that the station fits well into the mission of the school to offer a variety of meal options to students.
“When they’re trapped to a resident dining facility, we really want to try to shake things up, and this really gives them some good options,” he said.
Also, although the preparation techniques are different than those of the average Asian buffet, Duso said the dishes are familiar enough to not intimidate students looking to try something new.
“It’s not just comfortable when you eat it (and) when it fills you up, but it’s comfortable in your mind,” he said.
While eating a mix of rice, noodles and broccoli from the Chef Jet station, SUNY Plattsburgh sophomore Michelle Yeager said she appreciated the school’s efforts to bring in a mix of ethnic meal choices.
“I’m always up to try something new,” she said.
Sophomore Julia McNulty agreed and said it is also nice to have a variety of snack foods and healthier options.
She always orders the noodles from the Chef Jet station and usually pairs them with the teriyaki chicken.
“If you’re trying to lead a somewhat healthy lifestyle, it’s nice to have an alternative,” she said.