Fatima was nine years old when she first cooked for me. I was visiting her family in Karachi, and she insisted on making me breakfast. Eggs, pancakes, and sausages – all cooked to perfection; her way of welcoming me into her home. She worked with a quiet confidence in the kitchen, her little hands whisking away with utmost concentration. You would think she had been doing this for years. Fatima was a unique child – that much has been clear to everyone who has known her in life, who tasted her cooking, who read her writing or who saw her on television. She pursued her dreams with an unbreakable passion and concrete determination. As she grew, so did her skills. Whenever she would return home from college on breaks, she would cook for us – her Khalas. You could taste how much she loved to feed people in her food. With every trip, I saw her skills and creativity evolve. The subtlety with which she would fully reinvent a traditional Pakistani dish, crafting her own recipes, incorporating the herbs and spices of her childhood with modern techniques was inimitable. As a restaurant-owner myself, I watched her innovation and imagination with fascination. I was beyond excited for her future. How could I not be for someone who came up with gajrela gelato? Buttermilk Fried chicken biryani? Cheeseburger chaat? In 2016, I invited Fatima to hold a pop-up at Cosa Nostra. She had been working in some of New York’s best restaurants by then. I had the privilege to witness how she had blossomed as a chef, but even more so as a team leader. She handled everything. From procurement (she insisted on farm-to-table) to training the staff on how to serve her delicate pine nut soup, her commitment to quality, stamina and strength moved even the most hardened slogger in the team. Fatima baffled them with her knowledge and the generosity with which she shared it. They watched with their mouths agape as she showed them how to gut, debone and prepare a fish – never once recoiling. “Just like a man,” my staff would whisper to each other. Whenever she would return home from college on breaks, she would cook for us — her khalas. You could taste how much she loved to feed people in her food. With every trip, I saw her skills and creativity evolve Her menu showcased the best of Pakistani produce that she ensured was in season (mooli, shakarkandi, blood orange, moongre) – and Lahore tasted these everyday ingredients like they never had before. Fatima Ali was the only true Pakistani chef I have ever known. She was true to her craft and had her own distinct style – something that takes others years to cultivate. But Fatima was always brave enough to trust her instincts. Her honesty and clarity shown through in the food she made. There was no confusion about her identity as a chef or as a human being. That’s what drew people to her. She taught us how to savour every bite, to not leave anything for the next day – because we do not know if it will arrive. In her tragically abbreviated life, she found new spaces and became one of, if not the most, well-recognized Pakistani chefs in the world. The way she continues to inspire the younger generation is testament to that. She showed aspiring chefs in Pakistan to be authentic, to not be defined or held back by accolades or finances. As more and more young people enter this field, they are lucky to have someone like Fatima to look up to. I think of what she would do for Pakistan’s food and hospitality industry if she were here today. We know what food means for our culture, our history and our society – and we know how to use food to make people feel welcome and loved. Fatima recognized that early on and wanted to put Pakistani food on the global stage in a way that it sadly still hasn’t, always eclipsed by Indian cuisine or filed away under the same banner. She knew how to take our food to the level where it could hold its own internationally but remain unapologetically Pakistani. In her final days, eating became very difficult for her. For someone who loved food like Fatima did, that seemed like a particularly cruel punishment. She was so committed to her art and remained so even when her body was prying her away from it. In her final days, she agreed to have a simple boiled egg one morning. I had to make it three times over before she was satisfied with the result. Even in her moments of abject pain, she had something to teach. And by God, she was right – there is an art to even boiling eggs. She was like my daughter, and I miss her every day – and I long for the chef she was growing to become. Our journey together started with eggs – her eagerness to show me what she had learned – and ended with eggs – with me showing her what I had learned from her. On what would have been her 32nd birthday, I hope Pakistan’s food industry will look to her story to guide their own.