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.

Ali Allouche with Chef Sébastien Giannini
Ali Allouche with Chef Sébastien Giannini

“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.

Ali Allouche
Ali Allouche

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 Loucher, during his first cancer battle in 2004.
Ali Loucher, during his first cancer battle in 2004.

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.

These are just some of the restaurants Ali and his mom have visisted across the United States. They say they still have a lot more to go.
These are just some of the restaurants Ali and his mom have visisted across the United States. They say they still have a lot more to go.

“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.”

Ali Allouche
Ali Allouche

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.

Ali, his mother Janet Danko, and Chef Duane Keller
Ali, his mother Janet Danko, and Chef Duane Keller

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




  • Criollo 16 N. San Francisco St., Flagstaff AX 8601






  • a(MUSE.) 44 Baltimore Ave., Rohoboth Beach DE 19971

District of Columbia

  • Old Europe 2434 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington DC 2007



  • 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



  • Alinea 1723 N Halstead, Chicago IL 60614
  • Gino's East 162 E Superior St., Chicago IL 60611


  • Milktooth 534 Virginia Ave., Indianapolis IN 46203




  • Harvest 624 E Market St., Louisville KY 40202









  • Bluestem 900 Westport Rd., Kansas City MO 64111




New Hampshire

  • Moxy 106 Penhallow Street., Portsmouth NH 03801

New Jersey

  • Cafe 2825 2825 Atlantic Ave., Atlantic City, NJ 08401

New Mexico

  • El Pinto 10500 4th Street., NW, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87114

New York

North Carolina

  • Picnic 1647 Cole Mill Rd., Durham, NC 27705
  • Kindred 131 N Main Street., Davidson, North Carolina 28036

North Dakota




  • Kachka 720 SE Grand Ave., Portland OR 97214


Rhode Island

South Carolina

  • Cola 1215 Assembly, Columbia, SC 29201
  • Hominy Grill 207 Rutledge Ave., Charleston SC 29403

South Dakota




  • 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




  • Canlis 2576 Aurora Ave N., Seattle WA 98109

West Virginia


  • Ardent 1751 N Farwell Ave., Milwaukee WI 53202