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Pakistani Woman Makes It Big as New York Chef

  • Azhar Fateh

Few women make it into the top ranks of chefs in New York City. It’s even harder for women who are not U.S. citizens, but one young Pakistani woman has broken this barrier.

Fatima Ali is the sous - or assistant - chef at the famous Café Centro in Midtown Manhattan. She is also one of the very few Pakistani women to graduate from America’s top culinary institute, the Culinary Institute of Arts.

But what makes Ali even rarer, according to a VOA survey, is that she may be the only non-American female chef in any of 70 top New York restaurants.

Ali grew up in Pakistan, and she says there’s so much for her to take back to her home country.

“There’s so many things that I've been exposed to in the U.S., that I may not have been exposed to in Pakistan. Like the plethora of ingredients that are available here," she said. "But it’s been really interesting, taking what I have learned in America and then whenever I go back home to visit, cooking for my family and friends with the ingredients that I love from there.”

In July, Ali competed with other chefs on the Food Network TV show, "Chopped." Her blend of Pakistani spices and Western cuisines won her the top award of $10,000.

“The fact that I won, I suppose was such wonderful validation, all like the sacrifices that my family has made to put myself through school, and to be away from home for so long and the biggest thing for me was to inspire other young Pakistani girls to follow their dreams,” explained Ali.

“She has great potential, and I give her another two to three years, and she definitely will be a master chef,” said Jan Hoffmann, executive chef at Cafe Centro.

Ali wants to make a difference through her cooking. She was first inspired by poor children at her mother’s charity organization.

“I think I was 12 or 15 when I set up my first food stall at one of my mother’s festivals to raise money for these kids the fact that I had made even a small amount of difference cooking for somebody, I think that’s what just sealed the deal for me,” Ali added.

Ali hopes to return to Pakistan and establish subsidized kitchens where poor families can enjoy low-cost, organic meals - and where teens can learn cooking and other job skills.