The teen hopes to visit a restaurant in each state in between his treatments. 
jaleo jose andres
Credit: The Washington Post / Getty Images

Seventeen-year-old Ali Allouche is battling cancer for the second time. Allouche loves to cook, and so he and his mother have planned a cross-country trip during which the pair will try to visit as many restaurants as they can—at least one for every state. A D.C.-based charity called Invisible Hand learned about Allouche’s journey (which he takes on breaks between treatments) and passed his story along to chef José Andrés, who invited the aspiring cook over to his home for dinner.

“I think that what people like Ali show to people like us is that every second counts,” Andrés told WUSA9.

Andrés, who ran a humanitarian campaign with World Central Kitchen to feed the people of Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, must have been moved by Allouche’s story, because he invited his entire family, including his mother, stepfather, their six children, and his grandfather over for dinner at his personal residence.

During the dinner, Andrés set up a Facetime call between the teenager and Anthony Bourdain, who Allouche says inspired him to travel across the country. Bourdain had earlier donated $3,600 to a Gofundme account set up to finance his travels. He also called Emeril Lagasse, allowing Allouche to chat with two of his cooking heroes during the dinner. Allouche was also able to take a cooking class with Chef Sebastian Giannini back in December.

“I’m just overwhelmed by it all,” Allouche told WUSA9.

Food has this huge power to make you make you forget, to make you dream, to be hopeful,” Andrés added. “I’m very happy Ali is having this connection with food.”

Hopefully, Allouche will be able to continue his food tour of America. His determination to learn about cooking and discover new food in unfamiliar places should prove that food doesn’t just provide sustenance—it can inspire, heal, and bring joy even in the most dire circumstances.