Ahmad Alzahabi’s Ramadan recipes on TikTok helped launch him to ‘Chopped’ fame

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There is no “Chopped” champion like Ahmad Alzahabi. As her contestants ran around the kitchen on the popular Food Network competition show, Alzahabi had already assembled her appetizer plate from the mystery basket – spaghetti with mussels, micro mizuna and TikTok viral virus baked feta pasta – with three minutes to spare.

Surrounded by chaos in the high-stress kitchen, Alzahabi did the unthinkable, which is to anyone but a TikToker veteran: he calmly dusted off his apron, pulled out his phone, and filmed the first live TikTok of the broadcast.

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Viewers are used to seeing Alzahabi, a food creator known as The Golden Balance (@thegoldenbalance) to his 6 million TikTok followers, cooking behind the camera in his Michigan kitchen. Dressed in a black T-shirt, he greets watchers with smiles and spices that dance off his fingertips with Salt Bae flair. But now Alzahabi is expanding its audience. Last month, he was crowned champion of “Chopped” and he brought some pride home and to TikTok with him.

Ahmad Alzahabi has started sharing his mother’s recipes on TikTok. Now he is a “Chopped” champion. (Video: Jess Eng/The Washington Post)

For Alzahabi, cooking has always been a family affair. Growing up in a Syrian immigrant family in Flint, Michigan, he learned to cook alongside his mother, who shared the secrets behind her. Hummus and makloubeh when other parents were silent. At age 10, he began fasting during Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. He watched diligently as his mother prepared the meals for suhoor (the meal before sunrise) and at sunset when the family gathered to break the fast for iftar. All the while, he was soaking up tricks and patiently waiting for the day when he would create his own substantial meals.

Among Alzahabi’s most expensive recipes, he can’t keep quiet about his mother’s stuffed red peppers, filfil mahshi. In what has become his most viewed TikTok video to date with over 10 million views, he holds a juicy chili pepper up to the camera and reveals its fragrant interior: a stuffing of seasoned meat boiled in an aromatic broth. garlic, lemon and tomato. “Now Bismillah! he finally exclaims, prompting viewers to dig with what has become his signature.

For such a simple recipe, Alzahabi was surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response generated by the video – and its commonalities. “It was crazy how many other cultures also make stuffed peppers,” he says. “I never expected something so simple in my home to resonate with so many people.”

It’s one of many recipes he recently featured in his highly-watched Ramadan Chronicles series, which he began documenting two years ago. Throughout the holy month, Alzahabi highlights the diversity of recipes and flavors, banana and date smoothies and his family traditional recipes at one plate full of leftovers for sahur. Muslims everywhere tune in to see Alzahabi championing this familiar ritual, but for those unaccustomed to the month of fasting, he also shatters his misconceptions. As Alzahabi demonstrates, no Ramadan spread is the same from year to year and, it addshis most creative and hearty recipes come from this era.

That’s not the only personal food journey he covers. Through his channels, Alzahabi talks about his struggles losing weight after high school and the recipes that fueled him back then.

“I felt like I was living in different extremes. Either I ate whatever I wanted or I was on an extremely strict diet that wasn’t sustainable,” he says. “That’s why I started my name, The Golden Balance. I just wanted to find that balance.

Alzahabi reassures viewers in her most recent videos that maintaining a healthy diet doesn’t mean sacrificing cheese pizza or butter chicken. His secret? “You have to make small substitutions in order to get very similar results,” he says. “And by making those little substitutions, you can still eat great food and have fun.”

For over two years, Alzahabi has been bouncing around Florida while collaborating with other popular food designers like Owen Han and Nick DiGiovanni. But he still felt the gravitational pull of Michigan and the pull of his friends and family. So this year, he’s relocated to the Midwest, where he’s seeing family recipes with fresh eyes and sharing them in the name of balance.

“Now that I’m surrounded by family and friends and all these similar flavors that I tasted growing up, I just want to share them with people around the world,” says Alzahabi. “For me they are normal, but for others they might be really new.”

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