CHEF FATIMA ALI
“I’d like to help and inspire other young women, particularly Pakistani young women, to motivate them to believe that a life beyond the norm is possible”– Fatima Ali
Fatima Ali did just that. From early on in her career Fatima, broke boundaries, established firsts, and constantly challenged herself to be a better chef and person. She dreamed, she worked tirelessly, she challenged herself, she made time for others. She was an award winning chef, a talented writer, a loyal and loving friend, sister and daughter.
Born on August 8, 1989, in Lahore, Pakistan, Fatima grew up on two continents, spending her formative years in Lahore, Austin and Karachi. In 2007 she left Pakistan for the US to study at the illustrious Culinary Institute of America (CIA).
Fatima began her culinary career as a sous chef and floor manager at Vermilion in New York City in 2011. She continued with the Patina group, working in several of their restaurants in New York from 2011-2015, including as a sous chef at Café Centro and as the youngest executive sous chef at Stella 34 and La Fonda del Sol.
In 2012, when just 22, she won an episode of Chopped (Season 12, episode 3, “A Guts Reaction”) on the Food Network. She was the first Pakistani on the show and the youngest to win at that time. In 2016, a win at Chef’s Roll sent her to Napa Valley to work at the three Michelin-starred The Restaurant at Meadowood. She also competed in season 15 of Top Chef in 2018, where she came in the top 6 and won fan favourite. In April 2019, Fatima received a posthumous James Beard Award of Excellence for her article “I’m a Chef with Terminal Cancer. This Is What I’m Doing with the Time I Have Left.”
When Fatima lost her battle with Ewings Sarcoma on January 25, 2019, she was 29.
Before she said goodbye, Fatima did what she always did: dreamed, planned and worked. She devoted exhausting amounts of time and energy to this endeavor—she thought about what it would look like and who it would serve. Just like she did with every meal she cooked.
“I want to talk about Pakistan and the food, spark curiosity for people to look up the closest Pakistani restaurant, to change people’s perception of Pakistan through their tastebuds.” – Fatima Ali
When it came to cooking, Fatima drew on all the fundamentals she learned along her journey: classic European techniques taught at culinary school, modern methods absorbed from every restaurant at which she worked, and every trick and secret shared by her nani and dad. As her knowledge and confidence grew, so did her ability to take her imagination and turn it into something you could eat. Her creativity was most obvious when she would blend the explosive flavors of the food of Pakistan, which she loved so much, with her armory of culinary techniques and Western approaches learned as an adult. She straddled many worlds, and in doing so provided an entirely new perspective on Pakistani food. Fatima was equally at home making a subtle and elegant “pot au feu” as she was making a deeply rich, warming and spicy daal gosht.
She was constantly evolving, pushing the boundaries of cuisine and pushing her own limits.
In fact it started early. She ran a potato-focused food stall at a school festival when she was barely a teenager and cooked a five-course meal for 50 relatives at home before she ever applied to culinary school. Fatima realized early that she found happiness in cooking, and more of it in feeding people.
It is difficult to succinctly encapsulate her philosophy. But when you ask people whose lives she touched, they all tend to talk about similar things: she never judged—her friends came from all walks of life; she always made time for people; she was generous and never asked for anything in return; she loved life and tried to live it the best she could. Only a few of us know what it is to confront mortality and truly understand just how fragile and fleeting our lives are. Fatima, when confronted with the end of her life, reflected on a great deal and she shared with us the significance of three things: love, compassion and forgiveness. Most of all, it was love.
From love grew the others, and it was love with which she yearned to fill everyone around her. She understood the immense importance of it, and how little room there should be for anything else in life. She wanted more empathy, more kindness, more understanding and appreciation and more positivity.
Fatima’s passion and drive, strength and humility, honesty and generosity drove those around her to keep her legacy alive.
It was out of this love and inspiration that the Chef Fatima Foundation was born. This is her Foundation, passed to us to run just as she would have done. She will continue to be our true north; her vision is behind every initiative and program we set in motion here at the Foundation.