Silver linings can come from pandemics if you just know the proper ingredients.
One young local amateur chef got the combination just right, landing himself on a major cooking show.
Milan Bhayana, 15, a sophomore at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, began cooking elaborate dishes between virtual classes in his parents’ kitchen in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
“I had a full virtual freshman year,” Bhayana told WTOP. “When you’re in online school, making a risotto while you’re in class is a pretty good way to pass the time.”
His new cooking chops inspired him to prepare a big family meal last Thanksgiving.
“I wanted to go all out, so I made a really big beef Wellington as our Thanksgiving centerpiece,” Bhayana said. “I decided to post it to TikTok. … It got over 2 million views essentially overnight.”
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His TikTok director was his older sister, Malaika Bhayana, a sophomore at Duke University.
“Somehow on TikTok people loved it, seeing this six-foot, skinny young guy who made these crazy elaborate dishes,” their proud mother Chandrani Ghosh told WTOP. “She would narrate the story of her skinny brother producing these crazy meals. Something caught people’s imagination. Their most popular one now has 11 million views making this seven-layer lasagna.”
His TikTok fame caught the eye of a Hollywood reality TV cooking competition.
“I remember opening my email one day and seeing an email from ‘Top Chef,'” Milan Bhayana said. “It ended up being one of their casting directors who had seen my TikToks. From there, we started the application process and ended up being selected to go all the way out to L.A.”
He and his mom are now competing on “Top Chef Family Style” airing every Thursday on Peacock. The show, a spinoff of Bravo’s popular “Top Chef” series, pairs each contestant with an adult family member.
Episode one kicked off with a Quickfire Challenge called “Dynamic Duo.”
“We decided to make a twist on a classic burger and shake,” Bhayana said. “We made a Latin burger and a mango lassi, which is a traditional Indian drink very similar to a milkshake.”
The Elimination Challenge was an elevated family-style meal.
“This was a recipe of my mother-in-law’s that is absolutely a family favorite,” Ghosh said. “Milan has taken it a whole notch higher. It’s something my mother-in-law used to make. She loved making it. She used to guard that recipe dear to her heart. Only after I got married did I have access to that recipe. … It’s lamb chops made in a pressure cooker with a different set of spices.”
Episode two opened with a Quickfire Challenge of eggs Benedict.
“We actually won the Quickfire Challenge,” Bhayana said. “We decided to make a really classical eggs Benedict, but we made English muffin from scratch [and] we used pancetta instead of Canadian bacon as well as a couple of other substations to really make it more flavorful.”
The Elimination Challenge involved luxury ingredients.
“We picked Kobe beef to make Kobe beef sushi,” Bhayana said. “That was delicious.”
Episode three opened with an outdoor Quickfire Challenge with a tailgate theme.
“We had to cook on an open grill, which was very challenging in 90-degree weather,” Ghosh said. “We had to feed this huge number of people, maybe 16. We had to make a lot of plates. They had set it up like a tailgate party. There were two rounds to it. We made a flatbread for the first one.”
They remained outdoors for the Elimination Challenge with a vegan theme.
“The second part we made homemade tortillas and grilled a bunch of veggies,” Ghosh said. “You had to cook a vegan meal outdoors at a tailgate people for a ton of people. … We survived.”
Episode four was a most unique microwave theme.
“We had to cook a fancy meal that would hold up being frozen and then microwaved,” Ghosh said. “We really dug back into our heritage and decided Indian food was how we would do it. I was used to freezing Indian food. When I would travel I would make these meals, leave them in the freezer, so we knew certain Indian dishes would hold up. Curries, there’s gravy there that would hold up.”
Turns out, their Indian heritage paid off on the show.
“I grew up in Calcutta, India,” Ghosh said. “My husband’s family is Punjabi from the Delhi area, which is the capital. The food from various parts of India is almost like different countries in how different the food is. Where I grew up in Bengal is a lot more fish, a rice-based culture, very fish-heavy. The north is more lentils, Tandoori chicken and chicken Marsala.”
Their family bonds only grew stronger competing as a mother-son team.
“I couldn’t be prouder of him,” Ghosh said. “He was amazing under pressure. He really performs fabulously. He was the one who kept me calm. It was really lovely. How often does your 15-year-old spend this kind of time with you? I was very grateful on many counts. We got to share this experience. … He made a ton of friends he’s still in touch with.”
“I was just so thankful to have my mom there,” Bhayana said. “I’m always someone to follow a recipe and do everything by the book, but my mom is always the creative one. It was also great to grow closer to her during those months that we spent together. Typically during your teenage years you grow farther from your parents … but I think this really brought us closer together.”
What’s it going to be like at Thanksgiving dinner this year?
“I think expectations are going to run really high,” Ghosh said.
“I’m sure the guest list will be booked this time,” Bhayana said.
“Top Chef Family Style” is a Magical Elves production, executive produced by Casey Kriley, Jo Sharon, Hillary Olsen, Claire Kosloff and Tracy Tong. Episode five airs Thursday on Peacock.