The Portrait of Dreams

Fariyal Abdullahi

Living in the present, taking one thing at a time, finding a purpose to our actions, disregarding judgements, allows us to achieve much greater things.

1. Bio

Executive Chef, judge for Food Network TV channel, philanthropist. Born and raised in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), she moved to the United States at the age of 16 to complete her studies. Following the expectations of her family, who wanted her to become a doctor, lawyer or engineer, she graduated in clinical child psychology. After a short time, however, she secretly applied for admission to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), her lifelong wish. She gained admission, successfully completed her studies and earned the incredible opportunity of a partnership with the world’s most famous Michelin-starred restaurant, Noma in Copenhagen. From there, her career has been a crescendo of success. In addition to her career in the restaurant industry, she is personally committed at the forefront of projects to support schooling in Ethiopia: with the NGO Take Care of Home founded together with a close friend, for years she has been raising funds in order to build schools and drinking water systems in her homeland.

2. The power of a dream

I moved to America to become a doctor following in my older brothers’ footsteps, because that was what my mother expected. However, my greatest dream has always been to be a chef. After graduation, I tried my hand at being a doctor, but I wasn’t built for the kind of emotional pain and involvement that profession brings. Once more, I realised it was time to listen to that desire I had always felt inside me. That’s the power of a dream, it makes you see with absolute clarity what makes you happy, what makes you feel as if you belong in the world. As a child, I also dreamt of doing a job that would allow me to help people. For a moment I thought that being a doctor was the right path to take. Today I have found a way to do just that thanks to my success as a chef: on the one hand, with the NGO I founded, I return to my homeland trying to make schooling accessible to as many children as possible. On the other, as a black, female chef, of Muslim faith, representing less than 6% of all Executive Chefs in the US, I do everything I can to help other women of colour find opportunities in this world.

3. My journey into real beauty

I often go back to Ethiopia, to visit my family and, since I have had the NGO, also to check on the progress of the projects we subsidise from close up. In 2018 I went on a school visit with the founder and the school welcomed us with all 500 students singing us a song. This was followed by them reading poems they had written for us and a play, staged in our honour. All the parents, who are mostly farmers, took time away from work, which they could not even afford, to come and greet us and express their gratitude. That sense of community, the joy, the sense of hope I felt there was the most memorable moment I have ever experienced. It is that experience of beauty that returns you to your rightful place in life, shows you its meaning. The routine of a chef is hectic, the competition is fierce, the standards I set myself are always high: but to return home, to feel through those students and their families, that my work is opening up dreams and hopes for the future, is an extraordinary sensation.

4. What I learned and won’t let go

In this life path of mine that is so fortunate, because I do what I love, there is one thing I have had to learn: to stop and take time to regenerate, to find meaning. I believe that this kind of self-care applies to every person, whatever their path or lifestyle may be. We must learn to take care of our mental well-being. Living in the present, taking one thing at a time, finding a purpose to our actions, without getting anxious or worrying about judgements, allows us to achieve much greater things. Have you achieved a position? You deserve it! Less room for doubt and self-criticism, more room for believing in yourself. For women I have a very simple wish, but one that is still so utopian: for us to feel safe every day, no matter where we are, who we are with, where in the world we live. To feel safe.

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