Food and memories are strongly connected. We have the tendency to connect our memories from childhood with food. In family gatherings or friends getting together, you will always hear talks about the cake someone’s mom used to make when he was a child or the pasta dish one’s grandmother used to make when the family gets together during the weekend. There is always a story! Food is an important part of societies and cultures. Every culture has a signature dish and you will notice that food is essential when people travel to a new destination. They will always search for the best places to have food and as I mentioned, it is always part of the story.
As the year coming to an end, I am still in my pursuit of highlighting amazing people from Libya and the number of articles increased and I am grateful for all the amazing people I got to discover and know of their inspiring stories that show how passionate they are. This time, I am highlighting someone different but shares a passion for food and cooking.
I discovered him somewhat around this year and I started to follow him on Twitter and Instagram because of all the recipes he shared and his amazing talent as I am still learning to cook. His name is Ali. I reached out to him a few days ago for a possible interview before the end of this year and he immediately approved and he was easy to talk with and he shared his story openly.
Ali Naji Elhoni is a 22 years old electrical engineering student in Hune, Aljufra but he was raised and based in Benghazi. He has always loved cooking and food since he was young especially in his middle school years. he watched Fatafeet channel a lot but never put anything in practice. He always loved food and loved watching how food is cooked.
The real transition for Ali was when he started to develop his talent and he used cooking as an escape whenever he felt down especially while making pastry and baking because it is more delicate and detailed. His family moved to Hun city in 2014, he had so much free time and he decided that he would start cooking and the first dish he made was pizza and he got really good feedback from his family.
He created his Instagram account since 2012 but then he got into taking pictures of food and it was like more of a diary and as he started to cook almost on a daily basis; he shared more pictures of the food he made until he reached 37k followers without sharing the recipes which is considered incredible!
The reason why he didn’t share the recipes because, at that time, he didn’t have a good mobile phone to take videos or edit them and he is not employed so he asked his family to get him a good phone and his mother finally got it for him so he can continue his journey with cooking and sharing the ideas with his followers. He got a tripod later on and it was a gift from his friend. I asked him about the first video he made and it was French toast in July 2017 and he got more followers and feedback was decent at that time.
He continued to upload more videos, for example, cookies, waffles, and brownies. In August 2017, he uploaded the Cinnabon recipe as it is one of his favorites and his younger sister loved it and she encouraged him to make it. This video alone received over 200k and got about 7k followers on Instagram and he never did any advertisement on Instagram or Facebook. He only did an exchange with other chefs, such as, Afnan Alghamdi who has over 2 million followers and she helped but it was not a financed advertisement. Now, he has about 131k followers on Instagram as alicooljadar and on Twitter, he has 20K followers as alicooljadar .
I asked him if he encountered any challenges or struggles, he told me that before getting a tripod, he managed to put his phone on one of the kitchen cabins and the light was already manageable. In addition, I asked him if he received any negative comments and he said it was mainly when in the beginning, people would comment on how come a guy cooks and all the cliché related to it. but later on, he has been receiving support and encouragement from everybody.
Hearing about his story is very inspiring and the conversation was easy-going. Another note to add is that what helped him develop his talent and to practice it is the fact that he lives on his own so he was responsible for making his own food and that pushed him even more. In his beginnings, his first audience was mainly from the gulf states and Libyans first thought he was from Saudi Arabia because the majority of his followers were from Saudi Arabia and also because of him using terms from that region so there was the misconception but later on, he mentioned on his biography on social media that he was from Libya and when he uploaded on Facebook in cooking groups and on twitter recently, Libyans engagement increased, especially, on Instagram and they became his first followers or the first in terms of engagement.
One of the things I was curious about and I wanted to ask him about it was his anonymity, if you followed Ali from the beginning, you would notice that the pictures he uploaded never had his face on them and some people resembled him with the lady from Tom & Jerry when her face never appeared and we could only see her from neck down.
Actually, he said that it was done on purpose and he wanted people to follow him because of what he does which is cooking and that he uploads something he loves doing and he wanted to share it with people. However, He is not fully anonymous now, for example, on Facebook, Libyans know how he looks like because he shares content from his personal account in cooking groups and on Instagram, he recently created a personal account and he informed his followers about it so people can know how he looks like. I really liked his response because it is a unique idea to have which is to be known for what you do and not based on the way you look and I follow another Libyan artist who shares music covers without his face so I totally understand this idea.
Last but not least, I asked him about his future aspirations, Ali hopes to start his own bakery especially that he loves baking and he enjoys it more and also, he wants to open his restaurant afterward. I personally believe that he will do it because there is nothing better than doing the things we love for a living and Ali will get there soon. The interview was scheduled on quick notice as I mentioned but Ali answered all my questions and it was so much listening to his story behind the talent he has because I am a follower of his work but I don’t know the story behind it so I hope this piece answers the questions you might have and admire what he does even more.