'Top Chef' Fatima Ali's words about the last months of her life revealed only after her death
Fatima Ali left us with her story. She was full of passion, rebellion, and most of all, positivity.
The former contestant of "Top Chef" found out she had cancer in 2017. She lost her battle on January 25, 2019, at the age of 29.
Ali shared her heart-wrenching story with Bon Appetit magazine three months ago. The essay began with the first time Ali knew she loved cooking.
It was at the age of six or seven that her grandmother taught her to make bread bears. By 2011, Ali graduated from the Culinary Institute of America.
Her mother asked her to come home, but Ali thought she could best learn her craft in New York City.
"Watching me evolve gave my mom comfort, and helped her understand that this was absolutely my calling. So she finally let go, and said, “Look, just promise me that you'll do your absolute best."
So Ali did just that. At the age of 21, she was a junior sous chef who became responsible for an entire restaurant when her executive chef quit.
One day, the other cooks called out sick and several trays dropped from a transportation van. Ali had to step in and start the food from scratch with very little help.
Still, she insisted:
"But you know what? It was amazing. Managing to get through a day like that—and not only living to tell about it but doing it again and again—I think it really makes you understand what a human is capable of."
She said she wouldn't change anything. By 2017 she was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. She had just finished season 15 of "Top Chef" where she placed seventh. Viewers voted her as the fan favorite.
It only truly hit Ali what was going on when she did chemo and experienced hair loss. Then, she thought it was gone. She dyed her hair blonde.
She said: "My scans were all clear. I thought I'd beaten it," but it returned. Sadly, this time it reached her lungs and was terminal.
She was given one year to live. She saw people from all walks of life as she went through hospitals in New York and LA. This, she said, gave her "perspective."
She decided to use "cancer as the excuse [she] needed to actually go and get things done." She wrote down her intentions and stuck to them. People were counting on her.
"What is my intention? To live my life. To fulfill all those genuine dreams I have."
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I know it’s been ages since I posted and most may have figured out why. I’m sick and unfortunately I’m getting sicker. Right now all I need are prayers; prayers that are simple. I hope, because a wish is putting on too much responsibility on the other, that you will somehow find forgiveness in your big heart for whenever I must have hurt you. I thank you a million times over for when you have given me joy. I’ll try to keep everyone updated the best that I possibly can.
Some of those included writing down her recipes which she shared with her brother. She also decided to eat at a variety of restaurants including "Vespertine, Sushi Masa, Broken Spanish, Kismet, and Eleven Madison Park."
She was set on visiting Europe and experiencing the food there as well. It was meant to come to an end soon. Ali's brother pointed out that that was something she was familiar with.
" 'As chefs, you guys deal with death every day.' And he’s right. When you’re a chef, you understand the circle of life."
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Fatima was at home with us, surrounded by her loved ones and beloved cat Mr. Meow, when she left us in the early hours of the morning. When someone as bright and young and vivacious as our Fati passes, the only metaphor that seems to fit is that of a star—a beacon in the darkness, a light that guides us, on which to make wishes, from which to weave dreams. For all the comfort and beauty they offer us, stars, too, are impermanent. This morning a great one was snuffed out. Though she’s no longer here with us, her spirit will continue to steer us. We hope that you, too, will listen to her lessons: Live your life as she did—to the fullest. Pursue your passion; spread love and joy; be kind and forgiving; be generous; enjoy every morsel—from humble street food to decadent fine dining; cook for the people you love. Travel the world and seek out adventure. Help others and don’t be afraid to take the road less taken. Fatima will always be a part of us, and in fact if you look deep enough, you may find your own inner Fati. If you’re lucky enough to find her there, trust her, listen to her, because she will change your life for the better. We’ve learned a great deal over the course of her illness, not only pragmatic lessons we wish we hadn’t needed to learn about her disease and our health system, but about the immense love of which people are capable; about the power of being true to yourself; about how we can be better if we model ourselves after someone like her. We want to thank everyone from the bottom of our now broken hearts. We’re eternally grateful for the unending support, love, and generosity shown by people along the way—from random strangers we passed on the street who would tell her how much they admire and respect her; to all her doctors and nurses who did their best; the chefs and hospitality friends who are now part of our extended family; and the big wigs that reached out to see how they can make her dreams a reality. This has been a truly humbling experience for us all and even in her last chapter as she began to leave us, Fatima showed us how we should live.
Ali insisted her coming death was "not an unfamiliar feeling." It wasn't easy, but she had her family to cry with her when she needed. In her acceptance of it, she wanted to be happy and not let fear take over.
She concluded in her essay:
"But at the same time, you can't let that fear cripple you. It's harder being miserable than it is to be happy."
Ali's sister, Padma Lakshmi, also reflected hope as she paid tribute to her sister on Twitter. Her family used Ali's account to further share a lengthy tribute to their loved one.
Goodbye lil’ sis. One of our brightest stars has fallen from the sky.... I have no words, but here are some of hers: “I dream of being better. I dream of being myself again, but I know I’ll never quite be the same, and that’s okay. I look forward to meeting that woman one day.” pic.twitter.com/JThpUIbtk7— Padma Lakshmi (@PadmaLakshmi) January 26, 2019
Lakshmi wrote alongside a video collage of herself and her sister:
"Goodbye lil’ sis. One of our brightest stars has fallen from the sky.... I have no words, but here are some of hers: 'I dream of being better. I dream of being myself again, but I know I’ll never quite be the same, and that’s okay. I look forward to meeting that woman one day.' "
I was lucky to share this visit with Fatima. I wish I could have shared more. Sending so much love to her family. I hope they find comfort in knowing how much light she brought to the world. pic.twitter.com/0xAbZSjzFr— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) January 25, 2019
TV host Ellen DeGeneres also paid tribute when she heard of Ali's passing. The young chef had once appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" to share her story.
DeGeneres shared a tweet sending Ali's family lots of love, and hoping they could "find comfort in knowing how much light she brought to the world."