Fatima had the opportunity to work in many kitchens with people from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences. She loved her job, surrounded by people who also had so much passion for the food world. However, it frustrated her that these amazing people that she was sharing all that time with did not understand the rich and diverse food traditions and cultural background of her homeland. She wanted to help them understand the food of her country, her memories associated with it, their significance, and the joy that she got every time she indulged in a Pakistani feast.
Living in the US when Islamophobia was becoming rampant, Fatima felt conflicted – the world was telling her that her culture and people were something to be feared, yet she remained immensely proud of where she came from. She wanted to change the perception of Pakistan, which people in the West seemed to have: rather than thinking of Pakistan as a part of the ‘third world’, an impoverished and unsafe nation, she wanted them to learn about the thousands of years of diverse cultural and artistic traditions, poets, musicians, Nobel laureates, and of course, food.
To Fatima, exchanging skills and experiencing the joy of trying new flavors went both ways. Not only did she want her peers in the US to familiarize themselves with the Pakistani flavors she knew so well, but she also wanted aspiring chefs from her homeland, and the people of Pakistan to try and enjoy as she did, the rich food traditions from all over the world. Whenever it was Fatima’s turn to cook up the “family meal” in the kitchen she was working in, she would take the opportunity to cook up something Pakistani – like a rich, unctuous, peppery and warm daal gosht using all those cuts of lamb that gave away their marrow to make that eating experience one people could not forget. Just have a look at what she was up to when she was running Van Pakistan!
Fati wanted to make it part of her life’s mission to pursue ventures that lead to appreciating what Pakistanis have, be it art, culture, food or beloved traditions of hospitality – and to share that with the world. She also wanted to bring the skills and techniques she learned over the years and share them with those who wanted to learn (and eat!). This is the spirit behind the Chef Exchange program.
In Fati’s own words: “In the next few years, I hope to take Pakistani cuisine to a level of sophistication it has never been exposed to before. By introducing myself and my country to the world in another light is all I hope to achieve. We are, as a nation, known for a great many things – some good and some bad, but never extraordinary. One day that will change, and I’m not silly enough to believe I can achieve that single-handedly. I’ll need a little help from my friends…”
From left to right: Chef Adrienne Cheatham, Chef Fatima Ali, Chef Tyler Anderson, Chef Chris Scott
Our Chef Exchange program will have two parts to it:
1) Bringing globally renowned chefs to Pakistan to learn more about Pakistan and its food; and to share their knowledge and skills with us.
2) Send chefs who have gone through our training program to international kitchens to learn from the best, be inspired and bring back new-found knowledge and skill sets to become part of the growing number of shining stars in our fast-growing food industry.
By inviting chefs from different parts of the world, Team CFF aims to introduce them to so many of the things that make Pakistan special. When the chefs are here, they will spend some time exploring our culture and food heritage and see that there is more to Fatima’s homeland than they may have been led to believe. We know they will be inspired when they get first-hand experience of the world Fatima came from. We Pakistanis in turn will get to experience those things we probably take for granted through our guests’ eyes, and perhaps gain renewed appreciation.
We plan to take our international guests to places of historical significance, meet locals keeping up old traditions, and absorb as much as they can of what is on offer. This will also include an introduction to local food and traditional cooking techniques, which will allow chefs to learn how certain foods are made, certain produce is treated, and maybe apply some of what they see to their own way of cooking (or at least, go away with a story to tell). They, in turn, will offer up their time and expertise, so that we can offer various workshops and master classes that will be run for the general public and local restaurant chefs to learn new techniques and recipes.
This program will also generate revenue for the Foundation through our master classes and pop-up restaurants, which will showcase not only the visiting chef’s existing expertise, but what they have learned while in Pakistan. These new experiences, flavors and skills will be what the chef takes home with them and perhaps introduces in their own kitchens. One thing is for sure: they will know what Pakistani food is, which is something that meant a great deal to Fatima.
We, in turn, will be able to access their network and extended global food family which includes different kitchens all over the world so that when the time comes, our rising stars can be supported to go out, gain valuable work experience, learn and grow from these opportunities and bring back something new and exciting to offer to the local industry.
From left to right: Chefs Hillary Sterling, Caroline Schiff, Esther Choi, Leia Gaccione, Fatima Ali, Juliet Masters, Elizabeth Falkner