Celebrity chef Jet Tila faces stiff competition at first-ever Top Chef Northeastern

chef jet tila holding a plate of food
Chef Jet Tila from the Food Network competes in a live cook-off event at United Table at International Village. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Like many Northeastern students, Bella Carbone was starstruck by celebrity chef Jet Tila on the Boston campus Tuesday night.

But she was not going to let that interfere with supporting her teammate’s efforts in a cutthroat cookoff with him.

“I really want this for Chef Katie,” Carbone said. “She has a little history with Jet, so she wants redemption.”

Carbone was one of the lucky students who was chosen to team up with one of three Northeastern chefs to make a Chef Jet taco recipe (it was Taco Tuesday, after all) and serve them to Northeastern students at United Table. Around 300 students sampled the tacos and voted for their favorite using a QR code. The winning team’s chef then competed in a cookoff with Tila for the title of Top Chef Northeastern.

Tila, a Food Network regular who has appeared on shows like “Iron Chef America” and “Halloween Cookie Challenge,” is a busy guy. He judges, cohosts, and competes on several Food Network shows, owns restaurants, and, as part of his work with Chartwells, the company that runs Northeastern’s campus dining, he visits schools and helps develop campus menus.

Tuesday night, he was in full competition mode as he competed for the Top Chef title in a rematch with Chef Katie, the executive chef at the faculty club who once faced him on “Cutthroat Kitchen.” 

What was most exciting for Tila, though, was seeing how the event brought members of the Boston campus together. 

“I think what’s most exciting is these kids have grown up on Food Network and during the pandemic I think they watched even more and created a community. It helps me realize the impact that food has, that food media has,” Tila said. “It feels nice to be able to connect.”

Tila obliged students who asked for selfies, some in front of the balloons that were arranged to spell “Jet,” and others behind the taco stations with participating students. “I watched ‘Cutthroat Kitchen’ growing up,” said Carbone. Tila said the Food Network started in 1993 and Northeastern students are part of a generation that has grown up with it. 

“I saw that he was going to make an appearance and I said, ‘I have to do this!'” said Carbone.

Carbone, who manned the short rib taco station, was selected to participate based on her comment on a Northeastern Dining Instagram post asking for Northeastern’s top chef. “Serena Turner & I chef it up every day in the Rubenstein hall kitchen & I even have a food ig acct,” she wrote. 

“She’s right and i have pics to prove it!!! she’s the best chef this side of huntington fs,” Turner responded.

Allison Wong and Georgia Thomas commented together, writing, “We are both members of the e-board for spoon university and love exploring all of the great food in boston!!” They helped Northeastern chefs man the rockfish taco station. 

When the results were tallied, the short rib tacos took the top spot. For Chef Katie, that meant an unexpected opportunity for a rematch. Six years ago, Tila was the one who voted her off the cooking show “Cutthroat Kitchen.”

This time, in a one-on-one with Tila, she made General Gaos—the secret ingredient, she said, was “love”—and Chef Jet made his very own drunken noodles. The competition was stiff, and each chef kept trying to sabotage the other by turning off their heat. 

When they presented to the three judges, including Jackie Kran, a second-year student, it was clear that the decision would be a tough one.

“It was really, really hard to make a decision,” Kran said. “But I think Chef Jet’s dish was really good so I picked that one.”

Jet won, but for Carbone, the night wasn’t a loss. For the first time, she had gotten the opportunity to see what goes on behind the glass at Northeastern’s dining halls.

“It’s interesting to see what it’s like on the other side,” said Carbone. “We’ve come to appreciate how much they really do for us. Every student needs to eat.”

But students don’t come to the dining halls for just the food. “When I was a freshman during COVID-19, I didn’t have the dining hall experience,” said Allison Wong. The sense of community, she said, was missing. 

Now, Tila said, food can be a way to bring people closer together. “The impact of actually making the connection that maybe you never thought you would make,” he said. This event did just that.

As for Chef Katie, someday she may get the redemption that eluded her here. On Instagram, she wrote, “I lost today, but I’ll see Jet Tila again, and I will win.”

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