UPDATE (January 25, 4:06 p.m.): Bravo shared the following statement with The Daily Dish: "Bravo's Top Chef family, we are deeply saddened to share the news that Fatima Ali has lost her courageous battle with cancer. Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this time. People not only fell in love with her cooking, but fell in love with her personality and heart. We hope that the beautiful memories shared with her will provide comfort to everyone who knew and loved her."
The original story continues below.
Originally from Pakistan, Fatima left her hometown at the age of 18 to pursue her dream of becoming a chef. She enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America and began her culinary career as a junior sous chef at Café Centro in New York City. She worked her way up to becoming the youngest executive sous chef at Macy's Stella 34, and later working as the executive sous chef at La Fonda Del Sol.
Soon, Fatima shared her culinary expertise with the world, becoming the first Pakistani woman to win Chopped. She then appeared in Season 15 of Top Chef when the culinary competition headed to Colorado. Though she came in at seventh place after being eliminated in Episode 9, Fatima went on to win the Fan Favorite title for the season.
Fatima shared the news that she had been diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a type of bone and soft tissue cancer, at the end of 2017 as Season 15 of Top Chef was airing. After undergoing several rounds of chemotherapy, Fatima underwent surgery to remove the tumor and surrounding cells in her left shoulder in January 2018. Doctors later declared her cancer-free about a month later.
But in an essay published on Healthyish in October 2018, Fatima revealed that her cancer had returned and that doctors had given her a year to live. "The cancer cells my doctors believed had vanished are back with a vengeance in my left hip and femur bone. My oncologist has told me that I have a year to live, with or without the new chemotherapy regimen," Fatima wrote. "I was looking forward to being 30, flirty, and thriving. Guess I have to step it up on the flirting. I have no time to lose."
Fatima shared in her essay how she planned to spend the time she had left eating at every restaurant possible in New York and around the world, making amends with those listed on "a crumpled cocktail napkin" she kept in her wallet, and spending time with her loved ones. "It’s funny, isn’t it? When we think we have all the time in the world to live, we forget to indulge in the experiences of living. When that choice is yanked away from us, that’s when we scramble to feel," Fatima wrote. "I was always deathly afraid of being average in any way, and now I desperately wish to have a simple, uneventful life."
She was committed to making the most out of her time left, eating at her dream restaurants, contemplating writing a book, and appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show where she was given $50,000 to see and eat her way around the world. After taking a break from social media, Fatima shared a heartbreaking update on her health on Instagram on January 10. "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," she shared. "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."
Prior to her cancer diagnosis, Fatima had dreamed of opening up her own restaurant in New York one day. Even though chemotherapy had affected her taste buds and her surgery had permanently affected her range of motion in her left shoulder, Fatima still kept that dream alive during her cancer battle. "I dream of my future restaurant, where the kebabs melt against your tongue and the cocktails are just sweet enough to calm the burn. I have never felt more fulfilled than when I let myself crawl into bed late night after a back-breaking day of cooking. I remember that feeling like phantom aches in my bones. Ticket after ticket, call after call," she wrote in an essay about how cancer had affected her cooking published on Healthyish in May 2018. "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 know I’ll be different, and, despite the worry that settles into me every time I wake up, I look forward to meeting that woman one day."
Fatima made her public return to cooking at the Pebble Beach Food & Wine event in California in April 2018. She cooked alongside her fellow Top Chef Season 15 contestants Tyler Anderson and Bruce Kalman, as well as Top Chef Masters alum Elizabeth Falkner.
The Top Chef family showed their love and support for Fatima throughout her journey by visiting her in the hospital, giving touching tributes, organizing fundraisers, and setting up a GoFundMe. The Season 15 Cheftestants had a “bittersweet reunion” in Los Angeles earlier this month to visit Fatima and comfort her during this difficult time.
If you would like to donate to the Sarcoma Foundation of America, visit curesarcoma.org.
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