Bravo's Top Chef Season 15 winner Joe Flamm managed to channel humor as a means of healing even amid some of the most heartbreaking moments of his life. Speaking at the Between Bites chef storytelling series in Chicago on January 28, Joe opened up about his friendship with Fatima Ali, who passed away last month at age 29 after her battle with cancer.
Joe fought back tears as he remembered Chef Fati, but also channeled the joy — and laughter — of their time together on the show, where he took the Top Chef title, and she was named Fan Favorite winner.
Recalling how it all began, Joe told the crowd a very insider summary of his first experiences filming Top Chef.
"May 4, 2017, I got on a plane to Denver — I went out there to film a TV show: Top Chef." He continued, "Going out you know nothing — you know absolutely nothing. They call you two weeks ahead of time. And they’re like pack a f---ing bag, you’re leaving for two months, don’t tell anybody where you’re going. So you get abducted by some weird Bravo mafia."
Naturally, Joe was thrilled to do it. "I pack a bag, I say goodbye to my people… And you get there and it’s super weird," he joked. "They take you to this house. They’re like, 'Don’t ask any questions.' You get there day one, they come in your room, it’s like your first night in prison. They're like, 'Empty your pockets, open your mouth, what have you got, give me your wallet, watch, wedding ring, keys...'"
Joking aside, that's when things got real for Joe — and he faced a fateful decision. "Then all of a sudden you’re alone," Joe said. "They bring you to this house with 14 people. And you’re like, I don’t know these people from anybody. And they’re your competition. At some point you have to make a choice: Either I’m going to treat these people as competition and cut myself off from everybody, or I’m going to treat working in the kitchen like I've always treated working in the kitchen: The best part is the people around you."
Shortly after, he struck up a conversation with Fati and the two swiftly began to develop their bond of friendship. "One day we hopped in the same car together and she said, 'We haven’t met yet but people tell me you’re a funny guy and I should talk to you,'" he recalled. "So we shot the s--- and we had a few jokes and from then on, we were inseparable."
The friendship was critical as a means of support. Joe joked, "You’re just terrified the whole time and just trying to drown yourself in rose to make everything OK."
In all, he spoke for about 20 minutes — listen to Joe's entire tribute to Fati.
If you would like to donate to the Sarcoma Foundation of America, visit curesarcoma.org.
Story recording and editing: Adam Miller
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