A Chef’s Hunger for More
By: Fatima Ali with Tarajia Morrell
Published: October 11, 2022
Publisher: Ballantine Books
I went into reading this completely blind. I didn’t know who Fatima Ali was, but I chose it because it was a memoir of a woman who achieved much in a short time of life. I was familiar with the name Fatima Ali and knew her as a famous chef, but I have never seen a single episode of Top Chef, Chopped or any other shows she was featured on.
Knowing that Fatima Ali died much too young from a rare and aggressive bone cancer made reading her story even more heartbreaking and unbelievable. She was an amazing chef, a loyal daughter and sister, and a loving friend to nearly every person she ever met. The food world lost a great resource and a woman who knew how to savor every bite of life. She was on the brink of huge success and it just seemed so unfair that her life was taken at the age of 29.
Kitchens were where the love began. That much was already clear to my seven-year-old mind.
The essential question was already nascent in me: What greater expertise could one possess than to feed those they loved?Fatima Ali
Fatima Ali grew up in Pakistan and loved watching food shows in their own living room. She became curious about creating amazing dishes and mixing spices and flavors that left those relishing in the joy of her food. She dreamed of attending the most prestigious culinary school in the US and she did, attending the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and training under some of New York City’s top chefs.
Fatima decided to write this book after being diagnosed with cancer, so her time became limited and she needed to find someone else to finish writing her story. She chose Tarajia Morrell as well as Fatima’s mother and brother sharing chapters in the book. She doesn’t just share about her life as a chef, but as a child growing up in Pakistan and her struggles within her family.
…my family was a new shape, a table missing its fourth leg. My father had vanished from our lives.
Still, although ours was now a three-legged table, we balanced quite sturdily.Fatima Ali
Fatima’s story is quite amazing and all along I just kept thinking, how could this story be over for her? How could she not get the chance to go back to her home country and make food more accessible for the people there? How could such an amazing person not get the care she so desperately needed? Due to insurance issues and being passed around by doctors her cancer was allowed to grow and spread until a time when there was nothing that could be done. I cringed at her descriptions of pain and her inability to eat the food she wanted to. Even though she wasn’t able to travel the world, enjoying the wide variety of dishes she dreamed of eating, she spent her final days tasting food from local chefs and friends who made special meals just for her.
It wasn’t just the achievement of cooking that made me so elated; it was the triumph of feeding people. That was my moment of epiphany: I’m going to be a chef.Fatima Ali
Her story is absolutely inspiring but also heartbreaking. The ending is deeply sad and my heart broke for her family as they had to say goodbye to their special Fatima. But, I am certain that anyone who met her or loved her is far better for having done so.
The vocabulary to describe the dread you feel when you know your child is deeply unwell has not been invented yet. Maybe because parents who have experienced it do not wish to revisit that moment ever again if they can help it. It is fear incarnate. It is an undoing.Farezeh, mother of Fatima Ali