Monday, December 19, 2016

A Chef Prodigy


Six-year-old Nihal 'Kicha' Raj has his own cooking channel on You Tube. Recently, he gained global fame when he appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres show

Photos: Kicha on the Ellen Degeneres show; at home. Photo by Albin Mathew

By Shevlin Sebastian

I want to be an astro chef,” says six-year-old Nihal Raj, at his Kochi home. When the reporter looks puzzled, he says, “I want to be an astronaut who can go to outer space and cook. After many years, because of overpopulation, there will be no space on earth. People will start living on the Moon as well as Mars. So, I am going to invent an oven which can be used in space.”

Presently, Nihal, who goes by the name of Kicha (another name for Krishna, and Nihal's mother's favourite god) is in the middle of a media hurricane. Nearly every day, he is getting calls from all over India for interviews from print, radio and TV channels.

And the reason for this is not hard to find. On September 23, Kicha was featured in the popular Ellen DeGeneres show in the US. In a segment, which lasted just four-and-a-half minutes, he demonstrated how puttu (steamed rice with grated coconut, bananas and honey) is made.

His self-confidence in the show was astonishing. When Ellen asked, “How's it to be the US?” he jumped up and down and said, “It's fun.”

However, Kicha's turning point happened in May, this year, when, on his Kicha Tube cooking channel, on You Tube, he showed how mango ice-cream is made. Soon, he got a call from Facebook. Following discussions, they bought the video rights for $2000. Thereafter, Kicha was featured in several international magazines, web sites, and TV channels.

Somebody on the Ellen De Generes show saw this and got in touch with the family. And that was how father VK Rajagopal, mother Ruby, elder sister Nidha, 20, and Kicha were given an all-expenses stay in Hollywood, for a week, apart from free air tickets, for the DeGeneres taping.

Thus far, Kicha has uploaded about 45 videos. In each of them, he explains how a dish is made. These include items like tender coconut pudding, brownies, Punjabi lassi, Sago patties, garlic fried rice, ice cream cake and bread pizza. The videos are recorded on Sunday by Rajagopal and uploaded on every Wednesday.

Kicha's recipes are either baking or refrigeration-based,” says mother Ruby. “Even in baking, I put the tray inside the oven. When he uses a hand blender, we always mention that parental guidance is required. The last time Kicha used the blender, a lady said, 'Son, be careful about your left hand'. Kicha replied that his mother is standing right next to him, just outside the frame.”

But there is appreciation, too. Viewer Rajah Shan says, “I am a grandfather. I love your recipes. Tried your bread pizza, and it turned out to be beautiful. Bless you.”

Meanwhile, Kicha is waiting to be nine years old. “That is the age my mother will allow me to cook over the fire,” he says, with a smile. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi) 

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