On a cold day before Christmas, a dream was brewing in the kitchen of the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, D.C.
“I think I want to work in a kitchen,” 17-year-old Ali Allouche said. “Are you guys like a family?”
Here, Chef Sebastian Giannini took Ali under his wing for a cooking lesson.
“This is your feeling in your heart,” Giannini said, gesturing to the kitchen.“Yeah, that’s true,” Allouche said.
Ali loves flavor so much even the basics inspire him. “I just tasted the butter -completely changed me,” he said. “That was crazy.”
The ordinary feels new.
“What kind of water is this? What's in that?” Allouche asked. “Aqua Panna,” Giannini said. “Man! Can we get a picture of that water?” Allouche said.
Allouche’s relationship with food is evolving, in part because his health has been struggling.
Allouche is battling cancer for the second time.
When he was four-years-old, Ali was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, and was cancer free for more than a decade.
In the spring of 2017, pain in Allouche's shoulder signaled cancer again. While most kids his age are driving and taking college admissions tests, doctors diagnosed Allouche with Osteosarcoma in his shoulder.
We first met him last November, days before his eighth round of physical and chemo therapy.
He’ll finish 12 rounds by Spring.
Ali's prognosis is positive, Danko said. Doctors caught Ali's cancer before it had a chance to spread from his shoulder. Once he finishes his chemotherapy, he will have regular check-ups to ensure the cancer doesn't appear anywhere else in his body.
“I have to find something to take my mind off it before I go crazy yeah because it sucks sometimes,” Allouche said at his home in Fairfax.
To help fight the pain, Allouche and his mom, Jennifer Danko, mapped out his future.
“It's vacation,” Allouche said. “Big old escape.”
Allouche and Danko researched and wrote down at least one restaurant to visit in all fifty states. It's an adventure inspired by one of Allouche’s Idols, chef and writer Anthony Bourdain.
Inspired by Allouche’s story, Bourdain donated $3,600 to a GoFundMe page Danko set up to help pay for the trip.
Roxana Pierce of the D.C-based charity The Invisible Hand took notice after seeing our story.
“He's a kid,” she said. “I wanted to give him something to look forward to before and after his treatments.”
That’s how Allouche keeps finding his way into unlikely places like the kitchen at the St. Regis, and the home of one of D.C.’s favorite chefs.
“I (think) that what people like Ali show to people like us is that every second counts,” said José Andrés from his office in Penn Quarter.
“Ali is almost giving to everybody else around him,” Andrés said.
After Pierce sent our story about Allouche’s journey to Andrés, he invited Allouche’s entire family -- six kids, mom, stepdad, and one grandfather -- to his house for dinner.
“Food has this huge power to make you make you forget, to make you dream, to be hopeful,” Andrés said. “I’m very happy Ali is having this connection with food.”
During dinner, Andrés dialed up Emeril Lagasse and Anthony Bourdain via FaceTime so Allouche could talk directly to the people who inspired him.
“I’m just overwhelmed by it all,” Allouche said.
At just 17-years-old, Allouche has learned a lesson to last a lifetime: Generosity and passion truly feed the soul.
List of restaurants from Ali's GoFundMe page
- Highlands Bar and Grill 2011 11TH Ave. S. Birmingham, AL 35205
- The Marx Bros Cafe 627 W 3rd Ave, Anchorage AK 99501
- Criollo 16 N. San Francisco St., Flagstaff AX 8601
- The Cliff House Inn 6 AR-7, Jasper, AR 72641
- Kogi BBQ Food Truck
- In-N-Out Burger
- Quince 470 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133
- Grand Central Market 317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013
- South Beach Bar and Grill 5059 Newport Ave, San Diego CA 92107
- Sako's Mediterranean Cuisine 6736 Corbin Ave., Reseda CA 91335
- Phil's BBQ 3750 Sports Arena Blvd., San Diego CA 92110
- Black Cat 1963 13th St. Boulder CO 80302
- Homestead Inn 420 Field Point Rd., Greenwich, CT 06630
- a(MUSE.) 44 Baltimore Ave., Rohoboth Beach DE 19971
District of Columbia
- Old Europe 2434 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington DC 2007
- Joe's Stone Crab 11 Washington Ave, Miami Beach FL 33139,
- El Siboney900 Catherine St., Key West FL 33040
- Bacchanalia 1460 Ellsworth Industrial Blvd., Atlanta, GA 30318
- Umeke's75-143 Hualalai Rd., Suite, 105 Kailua-Kona HI 96740
- Ka'aloas Super J's 83-5409A Mamalahoa Hwy., Captain Cook, Island of Hawaii, HI 96704
- The Modern Hotel and Bar 1314 W Grove Street, Boise ID 83702
- Milktooth 534 Virginia Ave., Indianapolis IN 46203
- Proof 1301 Locust St., Suite C, Des Moines IA 50309
- Iowa State Fair Food 3000 East Grand Ave., Des Moines IA 50317
- Joe's Kansas City BBQ 3002 West 47th Ave., Kansas City KS 66103
- Harvest 624 E Market St., Louisville KY 40202
- Commander's Palace 1403 Washington Ave., New Orleans LA 70130
- Emeril's 800 Tchoupitoulas St., New Orleans LA 70130
- Fore Street 288 Fore St., Portland Maine 04101
- Mandalay Resturant & Cafe 930 Bonifant St., Silver Spring MD 20910
- Union Oyster House 41 Union Street., Boston MA
- Muldoon's Pasties 1246 M-28 West, Munising, MI
- Spoon and Stable 211 1st Street North, Minneapolis, MN 55401
- City Grocery 152 Courthouse Square, Oxford MS 38655
- Bluestem 900 Westport Rd., Kansas City MO 64111
- Lucca's 56 N Last Chance Gulch, Helena MT 59601
- Sip & Dip Lounge 17 7th Street South, Great Falls MT 59404
- The Boiler Room 1110 Jones Street, Omaha NE 68102
- The Buffet at Wynn 3131 S Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas NV 89109
- The Bellagio Buffet 3600 S Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas NV 89109
- Moxy 106 Penhallow Street., Portsmouth NH 03801
- Cafe 2825 2825 Atlantic Ave., Atlantic City, NJ 08401
- El Pinto 10500 4th Street., NW, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87114
- Souvlaki GR 162 w 56th Street, NY, NY 10019
- Manousheh 193 Bleecker Str., New York, NY
- Patacon Pisao 139 Essex Street, New York, NY 10002
- Picnic 1647 Cole Mill Rd., Durham, NC 27705
- Kindred 131 N Main Street., Davidson, North Carolina 28036
- The Orchids at Palm Court 35 W 5th street., Cincinnati, OH 45202
- Cheever's 2409 N Hudson, Oklahoma City 73103
- Kachka 720 SE Grand Ave., Portland OR 97214
- Abe Fisher 1623 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103
- D'Alessandro's Steaks and Hoagies 600 Wendover Street., Philadelphia PA 19128
- Reading Terminal Market 51 N 12th Street, Philadelphia PA 19107
- Bouchard Resturant and Inn 505 Thames Street., Newport RI 02840
- Meridian Corner 43915 US Hwy 18, Freeman, South Dakota 57029
- Central BBQ 147 E Butler, Memphis, TN
- Franklin BBQ 900 E 11th, Austin, TX 78702
- Biga on the Banks 203 S. St. Mary’s Street., San Antonio, TX
- Meditrina 165 West Harvey Milk Blvd, Salt Lake City, UT
- The Kathmandu 3142 South Highland Dr., Salt Lake City UT 84106
- Spitz 35 Broadway, Salt Lake City UT 84111
- Hen of the Wood 55 Cherry Street., Burlington, VT
- Inn at Little Washington 309 Middle Street., Washington VA 22747
- Canlis 2576 Aurora Ave N., Seattle WA 98109
- Lot 12 Public House 117 Warren Street., Berkeley Springs, WV 25411
- Ardent 1751 N Farwell Ave., Milwaukee WI 53202
- Snake River Grill 84 E Broadway, Suite 2, Jackson, WY 83001