After spending the past few weeks delving into President Obama’s foreign policy strategies, discussing the Rochdale case and surviving steamy temperatures of over 45 degrees Celsius, I was looking forward to covering something upbeat and inspiring. The appearance of Pakistani sous chef Fatima Ali on Chopped, a cooking competition on the Food Network, provided the perfect opportunity. If there’s one thing that I can wax poetic about it is food and while this is not about cuisine per se, it showcases a talented Muslim chef from Pakistan who in many ways exemplifies how passion and commitment can contribute towards changing traditional mindsets.
According to the video package introducing Ali to audiences, she moved to New York about four years ago and now works as a Sous Chef at Café Centro in Manhattan. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), she adds that while her friends were sending in applications to Ivy League schools, she only applied to the CIA after learning of them through a random Google search.
Ali speaks openly of the challenges of taking up what some in Pakistan still consider a menial profession, that of a “bawarchi” which literally translates to cook, since there’s no word in the Urdu language to convey the respect and prestige associated with being a chef. Her story suggests the special kind of passion it takes to defy convention and expectations to take up the culinary arts as a career. A Dawn news profile provides further hints to the reasons behind her career choice. Ali’s father, a well known barrister in Lahore, expected her to follow in his footsteps and study law. Her parents divorced when she was young, but she said that cooking with her father (who was a good cook in his own right) was a way for her to re-connect with him.
And what a breath of fresh air she was on the show!