Chopped Winner Chef Fatima Ali ’11, From Pakistan With Love
CIA Alumni Bio
Fatima Ali traveled across the world to her new home at the CIA with only a passport, three suitcases, and a dream. And despite social pressure in her native country of Pakistan to pursue an “auspicious” career—possibly in the law like her father—Fatima knew her own heart. So she found the most “auspicious” cooking school in the world with a bachelor’s degree program and set out to prove that she could have a successful career in the field she loved.
From her very first day at the CIA, Fatima connected with the many international students on campus. They all shared a common journey and Fatima forged close friendships. She also connected to the CIA faculty, whom she credits with helping to encourage and push her towards her goals. Chef David McCue ’93 was a particular mentor who recognized Fatima’s personal drive. When she was taking her second-semester practical and barely squeaking by with a passing grade, Chef McCue challenged her to come back the next day and do better. With his expectations behind her, Fatima retook the exam and got a 98%!
Fatima’s admittedly “ferocious quest for excellence” catapulted her from the kitchens of the CIA to the role of sous chef at Café Centro in New York City to being a winner on Food Network’s Chopped. In fact, she was the youngest winner as well as the first Pakistani woman ever to win. When she reflected on her Chopped success, she said, “The best part of winning was receiving congratulations from around the world. I even had Pakistani mothers who wanted me to talk to their daughters about pursuing their dreams.”
The CIA provided Fatima with more than just an education. “You have a lifelong bond with everyone who goes through the CIA’s program,” she explained. “That network of alumni is amazing! They can open doors and offer you opportunities you would otherwise never have.”
Sadly, Fatima was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in late 2017. In January 2018, her doctors declared her cancer free, however, the cancer returned with a vengeance in October. Fatima penned a response to diagnosis entitled I’m a Chef with Terminal Cancer. This is what I’m Doing with the Time I Have Left. In April 2019, Fatima was awarded the James Beard Foundation Media Award for a Personal Essay Short.
On January 25, 2019, Fatima lost her battle with the disease. She will be remembered by the CIA, friends, and the culinary community.
Chef Fatima Ali majored in culinary arts at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY.