Ali, the prodigious 18-year-old chef currently under the mentorship of Michelin-starred Simon Hulstone and who is facing deportation from the UK, was in London yesterday to share his story.
Eater London reported last month that Ali’s two years in Britain, in which he’s forged the beginnings of what prospects to be a rewarding and successful career, could come to an abrupt halt. Ali’s applications for asylum or — at the very least — a temporary working visa, have been blocked by Theresa May’s Conservative government.
Devoid of legal aid, Ali has been raising funds to fight his case. He was given a substantial boost on Thursday at WeWork’s Creator Awards, during which he was awarded £10,000 and the “Achievement Award.” Of equal importance was a platform and voice; he appeared alongside journalist Grace Dent and his boss Simon Hulstone for a masterclass on mentoring young professionals.
Dent told the crowd: “Two years ago, Ali ended up in Bristol, and his foster carer is here today. Within a month he enrolled at catering college. He entered a national competition (Young Peruvian Chef of the Year) and was the most inexperienced chef to make the final — he's now running a pop-up with Simon [Hulstone] at the John Lewis Gardening Society [in central London]. Ali could soon be sent back to Albania. This isn’t fake news.”
Hulstone said he knew nothing of Ali’s background when he met him. He saw only a willing and talented chef. He said at the event that "Once Ali tastes something, he doesn’t forget it," and told Eater London on Friday: “Yesterday's award was testament to Ali's work rate and loyalty to his profession. Immigration, Brexit, deportation played no factor in this, and shows whatever position you are in your career, working hard gets results. I am honoured to have Ali as part of my brigade and long may he cook alongside me.”
On Brexit specifically, Hulstone — echoing the sentiments of restaurateur Jeremy King — added: “We are doomed. This industry is on the brink of collapse. [We] shot ourselves in the foot, big time.”
While the hospitality industry overall remains in flux, Ali’s cause has been given a glimmer of hope. He now has a substantial sum, which WeWork said is to help the young star “develop his skills further.”
Context aside, carer John Stokes said the day was a special one, and one that Ali thoroughly deserved: “Ali had lunch with Simon at Bibendum, and his first taste of champagne. He received a standing ovation at the awards. It was a day he will never forget.”