Chef Stories: Fatima Ali

July 2, 2015Halal Gems Team

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Fuelled by an intrinsic passion for food and cooking, Fatima Ali left her home town in Pakistan to pursue a degree in Culinary Arts from the Culinary Institute of America. After high school, as her friends were applying to Ivy Leagues, up to five or six universities at a time, Fatima applied to just one. While her mother supported her decision, her father initially urged her to apply to law schools instead, finally coming around after much persuasion. For 18 year old Fatima, there were no two ways about it – she started cooking at five and this would be her future.
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Fatima found her home with the Patina Restaurant Group in New York City. Starting as a Junior Sous Chef at Cafe Centro, in just eighteen months, Fatima climbed the ranks to settle into the brand new Italian restaurant establishment at Macy’s, Stella 34, as Executive Sous Chef – one of the youngest the company has seen. Fatima is determined to hone her skills while working in New York City, enabling her to meld the bold flavors and spices she grew up with, with the modern techniques of her training.
In the near future, her plans revolve around introducing the wonders of Pakistani flavors to the public like never before. Her desire to pioneer the movement of eclectic, modern Pakistani cuisine matches her passion to be a role model to all young women from her country. She hopes her determinations and successes can serve as proof that any goal is attainable as long as you push hard for what you believe in and always remember who you are.
If you yourself were a food dish, what would you be and why?
A Scotch Egg- because it is a European Classic but has Pakistani roots as a spin on Nargisi Kofte, which were introduced to British settlers during colonial Indo-Pakistan times. That pretty much sums up my food philosophy in a nutshell: recognized classics with Pakistani twists.
Describe your relationship with food in three words.
I love food.
What do you think is the culinary capital of the world and why?
New York City – I’m not just saying that because that’s where I live, but I truly feel that the city is a complete melting pot of so many different chefs with varying backgrounds and accolades. The food scene here is forever changing and evolving.
Name us one food that you cannot stomach.
‘Natto’- Japanese fermented soy beans.
Talk us through your relationship with food – how did you fall in love?
I was very young when I realized my love for food. It was the easiest way for me to bond with my various family members- learning traditional Pakistani fair with my grandmother, exploring South East Asian cuisine with my father and creating simple American and European dishes with my mother on Sundays. They each had an integral role in fostering the passion for food that I have today. As I grew into my teens, I truly began to think of it as the only career for me- I was determined to be a chef, and progress from simply cooking for friends and family to running a successful restaurant one day. With these dreams in mind, I applied to The Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York and began my journey.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?
I have also always had a love for writing – and perhaps that would be my second choice for a career.
What is your go-to comfort meal – the one meal that feels like its enveloping you in a motherly hug? I love Khaosay- a Burmese coconut noodle soup. My grandmother makes it fabulously and every time I am visiting her I beg her to make it for me.
What would be your ‘last supper’ or your last meal on earth if you could pick it?
This is really tough- and actually is a question I have thought of often. I think I would really love Aloo Gosht, Daal and Chawal- basically a very simple and traditional Pakistani plate of food: stewed goat in gravy, yellow lentils and white rice. It doesn›t get better than that.
What are your culinary pet hates?
I think that would revolve around disorganization in the kitchen. I really dislike mess when I am
cooking. It reflects poorly on the kind of chef you are if the area around you is in disarray.
Who would you love to cook for (past or present) and what would you make them?
Wow. That’s an interesting question- I think I would really like to cook for Martin Yan. He was the first chef I ever watched on tv and I would follow his show religiously. As for what I would make him- probably a classic Chicken Biryani. I think that’s a dish that would make anyone fall in love with Pakistani food.

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