Kacha morich, the staple garnish on most Bengali family’s dinner table, next to piyaj, lebu, lobon and the “bone plate.”-Image credit: Janan Sarwar.
The last time I visited my parents’ home was for Thanksgiving holiday. While they wanted to surprise my children with macaroni and cheese and other American “staples,” I was craving the simple tastes of home… aloo bhorta, daal, bhaath. Admittedly, I always crave these things and am a big fan of Bengali gharer khabar, but my nostalgia has been evoked by inspiration from a new, incredible friend from the Internet, Shihan Chowdhury, a.k.a. ChiliPepperCooks.
While Amma was telling us about the green beans for a casserole, my husband and I wondered what unique desi twist Shihan would add to make it a fusion recipe. Not only does ChiliPepperCooks artfully infuse Thai chili pepper into everything (yes, even in desserts and smoothies), but he also proudly shares his Bengali heritage on his profile and within his recipes.
Now, he is an Internet sensation, redefining gourmet food, challenging norms, eating with his hands and sparking innovation in the kitchen. His spectacular videos have over 7.8 million likes and he has currently amassed over 545,000 followers on TikTok. He hosts impromptu live events where he demonstrates his culinary skills, which are heavily attended by guests from all around the world. Moreover, Shihan receives countless engaging comments and tons of support, many followers reminding him not to forget the chili pepper.
His recipes motivated my husband to cook because they are easy to follow, replicable and taste amazing. However, Shihan does have a small percentage of trolls and comments questioning his food pairings and use of Thai chili peppers. He embraces the trolls saying he “kills them with kindness.” He welcomes everyone to engage with him, as some of the greatest ideas come from being challenged.
Evidently, Shihan is inspiring to watch and has witnessed exponential growth on TikTok by consistently creating phenomenal content and staying true to the following three golden rules.
- The recipe has to be easy.
- The food has to look good on camera.
- The food must taste good.
The best thing about Shihan, though? He is incredibly down-to-earth, humble and personally responds to every message and comment on his social media profiles. We actually first met in October to discuss publishing his first cookbook.
Born in Dhaka, Shihan describes himself as a self-taught home-chef, with no formal culinary experience. Yet, he was inspired, from an early age, by his parents’ cooking and started taking the art more seriously after watching Chef’s Table on Netflix. However, his greatest inspiration is his grandmother in Bangladesh, who naturally cooks without measuring anything.
“Cheetos Elote” recipe from Shihan’s TikTok, which my husband, Hanable Sadiq, and I recreated. Note: we recreated more recipes, but they were eaten up before a photograph could be taken. -Image Credit: @rxjanan
“It’s okay to start over,” Shihan shared a recent motivational video on his Instagram, where a speaker discussed the resilience of changing course and trying new directions in life. This relates also to Shihan’s career journey, which has changed course and combined a number of skills and talents. Prior to his TikTok fame and his success in entrepreneurship with a marketing agency, he created with some friends, Shihan was actually a software test engineer with the IRS for 7 years. A position which seems far from the creative, artistic version of himself we see today. But, this work relates to data and technology, giving him an edge in tech and app creation. In fact, he utilizes his past experience in photography, videography, and marketing to grow his audience. His first viral recipe, blackberry buffalo chicken was inspired by a blackberry scallop dish from a DC Michelin-starred restaurant. Here is an example of someone who pivoted his career path into a life that he enjoys.
Furthermore, Shihan likes to make unexpected combinations that work (like chili pepper and honey), which also pays homage to Bengali cooking that also delicately combines savory with spicy and sweet. While we await working on his cookbook, celebrating Shihan’s 1 million followers on TikTok, and seeing where Shihan goes next, we also anticipate additional collaborations and trying out more of Shihan’s recipes.
Follow Shihan or ChiliPepperCooks on Instagram, TikTok, SnapChat and YouTube. You will discover his signature international chicken wing recipes and desi-inspired food such as his take on a Dhaka burger, fried squash blossoms (like kurma phool bhaji) and a roti quesadilla, among many other recipes guaranteed to make your mouth water.