If you’ve been watching the #CookingwithTZac series on chef Thomas Zacharias’ Instagram channel, then Sicily Chechi is not a stranger. If you haven’t, here’s your weekend binge. But what do we know of her? The masked superhero — yes, that’s the only image she is willing to share — loves her anonymity and has a funny bone a mile long. She has also known The Bombay Canteen chef for more than two decades (“we used to make home videos of him performing magic tricks”). And if you go by the comments section, many claim they are “bigger fans” of her than Zacharias. Statements such as “Got pretty drunk by the end of the video thanks to @SicilyChechi’s shot game” and “I should be able to sue you for making me snort at 2.43 am” are pretty good indicators of her popularity. So we tracked her down in rain-drenched Kerala for a quick Q&A on her editing rules and skills in the kitchen (none, sadly).
What cooking videos did you cut your teeth on?
I’m totally new to the world of cooking videos. In fact, I made my debut with chef TZac’s recipes and I’m so good at it already. Hard to believe, no? But I was introduced to the world of visual media from an early age. I used to take computer animation classes during my summer holidays and a lot of my editing skills are a result of that.
A tired move in cooking videos that must be retired.
Starting every cooking video with “Welcome to yet another episode of Cooking with TZac.” I’ve been telling this guy to retire this move since his second IGTV video and add a nicely-packaged opening sequence with background score by Prateek Kuhad or When Chai Met Toast. He claims he can’t afford it. Pfft.
I’m sick of recipe videos on the Internet looking so manicured and flawless. They give this false impression to novices like me that only such highly-skilled cooks can take on these recipes. What cooking videos need desperately is a little bit more depth, beyond just what is being put on the plate. Chefs need to find their own unique voice. Like TZac found mine. LOL!
What is the secret behind popular cooking videos (by chefs) on social media?
People don’t like working too hard for their supper, but they still want the recipes to be unique. Word on the street is that videos also need to be short format and be contained in five to seven minutes. With the #CookingwithTZac series, chef [Thomas Zacharias] and I are trying to challenge these baseless rules. Most of the videos have been 10-15 minutes long and they have a willing audience. Yes, the recipes are fairly simple but there’s also a lot of thought and love going into them… when TZac’s not getting distracted by flying objects.
The correlation between recycling kitchen waste and ‘cooking video’ out-takes?
Oh, both are precious and highly underrated. Some day I will start my own comedy channel filled with videos of out-takes, sell it to Netflix, make millions and retire. Until then, you can find some good repurposed ‘waste’ on my Twitter or Instagram handle @SicilyChechi [not a subtle plug at all].
There’s no room for embarrassment on social media. Why?
These days, it seems there’s no tolerance or room for anything that doesn’t conform to societal norms. There seems to be this need for everyone to be perfect. It’s time we broke the chain. It’s okay to slip up, be vulnerable or laugh at yourself.
Most entertaining cooking video?
I actually don’t watch a lot of cooking videos because I don’t cook a lot. I will, however, say that my favourite recipe video of all time is Toddy Chicken by the one and only Vah-Chef Sanjay Thumma. If you haven’t seen it yet, Google it and invest 10 minutes on the finest piece of culinary cinema produced by an Indian. Thank me later.
Your checklist for post production and a software/app you cannot do without.
We take turns with the editing using an app called Splice. I’m the lazier one so, more often than not, TZac does the boring work. I just make sure the interesting parts — like those slo-mo shots of his awkward facial expressions — are in there.
How much prep goes into the videos?
Influencers these days want to be frequent with putting out content, just churning them out like rabbit babies. Quality gets compromised and there’s a lot of trashy stuff coming out. But genius takes time. I typically take anywhere from three days to a week to work on one of the videos. It’s a lot, I know. But I also have a life and a day job.
Your all-time favorite cooking with TZac video.
The Meghalayan Black Sesame Chicken got me intrigued. It was black in colour, for god’s sake! I thought TZac had lost it!
What is your relationship with food?
I’ve never really been big on cooking. So left to my own devices, I don’t eat very well. But ever since I’ve started working on these videos, I’ve been spending more time in the kitchen. I read TZac’s blog, Memoirs of a Chef, and it has changed my perspective. I’m trying, but it’ll take time. Until then, Maggi is a lifesaver. [And yes, he asked me to plug his blog somewhere.]
Tell us about yourself. Why ‘Sicily Chechi’?
That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? I’m not sure why people want to know more about me. It’s the old ‘separate the art from the artist’ argument, you know. I’ll still give you a few fun facts. I was a child actor back in the ’90s and made my way into a few Malayalam ads. I like to dance to Bollywood tracks and my favourite colour is magenta [mostly because I like how it sounds]. The ‘chechi’ comes from the Malayalam word for elder sister. But if there’s a potential cute Mallu boy who has taken my fancy, just Sicily will do.