It’s often the moments outside of the classroom that shape a student’s college experience.

Tuesday was full of those moments for UNC Greensboro students, thanks to a special visit by renowned chef and Food Network star Jet Tila.

Tila spent the day cooking with students, sharing his personal journey, and giving advice on entrepreneurship. The events were organized by UNCG Campus Enterprises and UNCG Dining Services

Senior Angelo Herrera was one of about 15 students who had the opportunity to learn how to make authentic Vietnamese spring rolls from Tila.

“It’s amazing that, as students, we are getting these opportunities that we aren’t necessarily going to get after we graduate,” Herrera said. “I’m excited and thankful for UNCG for allowing us to meet successful individuals like Chef Jet. He is very down-to-earth, humble, and funny, so it made the whole process super fun.”

The food? Delicious.

“College kids, this is called free food,” joked Tila, as he encouraged them to make more spring rolls during the teaching kitchen session in Fountain View Dining Hall.

Photo of Tila cooking

Tila shows students and special guests how to make Vietnamese spring rolls.

But perhaps even more impactful for students were the discussions they had with Tila, particularly during the one-hour entrepreneurship master class.

The son of Thai immigrants, Tila grew up in Los Angeles and, at a young age, learned the traditions of Asian cuisine and worked in just about every position in restaurants and grocery stores. 

In his 20s, he completed his culinary education and started to seriously focus on building his career. He described conducting a market analysis – even though at the time, he didn’t realize that’s what he was doing – seeking out mentors, and working to establish a personal brand.

After working in different restaurants and for the tech sector, it was an executive chef position with Wynn Las Vegas that ultimately catapulted his career and, years later, helped land him on Food Network.

Through sharing his own story, Tila offered a few pieces of advice:

  • Don’t sell yourself short.
  • Being nice gets you far.
  • Invest time in your craft.
  • Success is connected to belief in yourself.
Photo of Tila speaking with students

Tila speaks with students at the entrepreneurship master class.

When it comes to “being nice,” Tila emphasized building positive relationships with the people around you, and always saying hello to everyone in the room. Be the best, and be the nice guy, he said.

“I knew from my father that it’s all about personal connections,” he said. “Personal engagement is everything. … If you’re not super social, force yourself to be.”

Tila rounded out the day by judging the “Battle of the Chefs” student cooking competition. The Student Government Association team was crowned champion, and the team members were awarded Flex cash to eat on campus, a pizza party for them and their friends, and a special Chef Jet apron.

Group photo of students holding first place sign

The Student Government Association cooking team celebrates after winning “Battle of the Chefs.”

See more from Tila’s visit in the video below.

Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications
Videography by Joe Scarborough