At the age of six, Nihal Raj showcased his culinary skills to Ellen DeGeneres by demonstrating the use of Puttu Kutti. Soon, Nihal, popularly known as Little Chef Kicha, was rubbing shoulders with the likes of Steve Harvey and Dawn French, travelling the globe and entertaining fans with his culinary skills and endearing personality. Apart from his culinary talents, Kicha harbours a fascination for astronomy, nurturing dreams of preparing meals in space one day. He aspires to become the Gordon Ramsay of a human settlement on Mars.
Drawing inspiration from the American YouTube channel, EvanTubeHD, he launched his YouTube channel, KichaTubeHD, in 2015. Through his engaging videos, Nihal showcased distinctive recipes while donning an apron and an oversized chef’s hat, swiftly elevating him to social media stardom.
As a child, 1,00,000 views or 50,000 views on his videos, didn’t quite register the concept of fame for him. “At that time, I was mainly focused on cooking. I liked talking to people and the camera. I slowly realised that many people started to recognise me, even though I never got to know them,” he says.
A winner of the 2020 Global Child Prodigy Award, Nihal, 13, reflects on the turning point when Facebook paid him $2,000 to get non-exclusive rights to his video, ‘Mickey Mouse Mango Ice Cream’. Recalling the moment, he says: “At that time, I didn’t think much of it. It was just an ice cream in the shape of Mickey Mouse, yet it changed my life completely,” he says.
He further adds, “I started getting invites from shows all over the globe. First, I got an invite from the UK, then Vietnam, Dubai and from various cities in India,” he says.
Discussing his decision to prepare Kerala’s Puttu on the Ellen DeGeneres show, Nihal emphasised the significance of staying connected to one’s cultural roots. “I was brought up in Kochi. This place has made me who I am… I believe that all of us are influenced one way or the other by our hometown and I like to express that through cooking,” he said, adding that he loves Kerala cuisine, especially the breakfast items.
According to Nihal, his mother Ruby Rajagopal, a homemaker, and a cake designer, had a great influence on him. “When I was four years old, I started watching her bake, playing with the fondant, etc. At that time, I liked cooking and watching cookery shows for children on YouTube. I would make videos of cooking and post them on YouTube. I asked my father to help with it and we started the channel when I was around five years old,” said Nihal.
Nihal says that he has yet to decide on what he wants to do in the future. “Right now, I am only in the eighth grade… In the back of my mind, I have aspirations of becoming an astronaut, a diplomat, a pilot… I am going to decide in a year or two,” he says.
Nihal expresses his awareness that his generation will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of the country in the coming decades. “Our generation is very advanced because of different factors like technology, access to information and so on. I feel that believing in yourself is the key to becoming unstoppable. If you feel it in yourself that you are unstoppable then you will be unstoppable. It is about the mindset. Don’t overthink it, go out and do it,” says Nihal.