Fatima Ali's cancer diagnosis last fall shocked fans and the whole Top Chef family alike. That was especially the case for her fellow Season 15 Cheftestant and good friend Joe Flamm, who had just seen Fatima being her usual effervescent self about a week before hearing the sad news when the two worked together on a pop-up.
Joe recently told The Daily Dish that he later learned that Fatima had been diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a type of bone and soft tissue cancer, from friends who had been working with her. "They texted me and they're like, 'Fati's sick.' And I'm like, 'Oh, that's weird. Fati doesn't get sick. Nothing happens to Fati. She's a juggernaut,'" Joe recalled. "And so I called her and I remember talking to her and she told me. I remember just walking around the restaurant all day, just shaking my head. It was such a gut punch. I couldn't believe it, that somebody so young and vibrant, it's just like she's amazing. So it was horrible. This is supposed to be one of the most fun times of her life, such a great experience for her, and she's literally battling to stay alive right now."
Fatima went through four rounds of chemotherapy before having surgery on her left shoulder to remove a cancerous tumor. Fatima shared in February that the tumor and surrounding cancerous cells had been "removed entirely," and she has been declared cancer-free. "It was a really tough road for her. And now that things are on the upswing, it's just incredible," Joe said. "She's so positive, she's so strong. I can't imagine being in her shoes and being that positive, being able to just take it all on. She's so incredible in every sense of a person. She's so strong on every level. Now feeling like she's gonna come on the other side of this and absolutely f---ing crush it. It's been tough, but it's given everything a ton of perspective of like none of this sh-- really matters. [What's] important matters."
Fatima shared the above photo of her and Joe when he visited her after she came home from the hospital following her surgery. "I've been to New York probably five or six times since Top Chef, and I try and go see Fati every time because me and her became really close on the show, and it's like you've got to show your love and support," Joe shared. "We went through something crazy together, and she's going through something that I can't imagine right now. So I think it's really important for all of us to show our support and love for her."
Things are slowly getting back to normal for Fatima. She's even slated to make her triumphant return to cooking at a Pebble Beach Food & Wine event in April. "She's getting that itch to get back into the kitchen again. Seeing that, like that little fire inside of her, 'I need to be cooking, I need to be going,' because she's such a full-speed person. That's how she is in the kitchen. That's the type of chef she is. It's just like nothing can stop her. To see that back in her where she's like, 'All right, I need to go, this needs to happen,' it's awesome. It's incredible. That got me really fired up," Joe told The Daily Dish. "She's gone through physical changes. She had parts of her shoulder removed, like muscle from there. Being a right-handed cook, you do so many things with your non-dominant hand. It's gonna change the way she has to cook and how she has to act in the kitchen, but she's excited to get in there and do it. If anybody can do it, it's her."
Joe said he doesn't even mind that Fatima will be stepping in his place as "Baby Bear" at the Pebble Beach Food & Wine event, according to the description, cooking alongside fellow Season 15 Cheftestants Tyler Anderson and Bruce Kalman, as well as Top Chef Masters alum Elizabeth Falkner. The title of their lunch is Goldilocks and the Three Top Chef Bears, which is a nod to Tyler, Bruce, and Joe dubbing themselves "the Bears" when they roomed together during this season of Top Chef. "Now she's a baby cub. Everybody wants to be a bear now, apparently," Joe joked. "I totally understand that. If you're gonna get replaced by anyone, get replaced by Fati."
Top Chef host and judge Padma Lakshmi praises Fatima's strength during this difficult journey in the video, below.