Bravo's Top Chef Season 15 winner Joe Flamm and fan favorite Fatima Ali were not just fellow competitors, but the closest of friends. In fact, at the Between Bites chef storytelling series in Chicago on January 28, Joe told the crowd that his "life changed really drastically," when his friend passed. He also shared that the pair had been working on realizing her dream of opening a restaurant before her cancer advanced — a place to "tell her story," with her "name on the marquee," even just for one night only.
"To be a chef, to be able to tell your story," Joe began by telling the audience, "We’re like historians who are sh--ty at school and want to tell our story with food. And I think that’s a big part of it — and one of the most beautiful parts of what we get to do." Specifically, he described the importance of storytelling through food for "those of us who came here from other countries — my family came here from Italy" and Fati's family from Pakistan, "and brought nothing but recipes."
He continued, "That’s what you got. That’s who we are. And we get to use that to tell our stories. And she wanted to tell her story. And it was such a unique story. It wasn’t a story that had been told yet here. It was different. She was this beautiful, incredible, energetic, intelligent, hard-working woman from Pakistan who was going to blow it the f--- up."
So even if both knew Fatima's time would be short, he had a plan. "So I pitched her on this crazy idea," Joe said. "I said I want to open your restaurant. One night only. In f---ing New York. I’ll get the equipment. I’ll get the plates. We’ll pick them out. Your name on the marquee. Let’s do it. Let’s tell your story for one night only, we gotta do this, we’ll set it up."
They were formulating a plan to set the project in motion, he said. "[Fati] was super into it, she bought into it, [Chef] Steph [Izard] bought into it, a ton of people were into it, we’re like — cool. We’re gonna do this."
Heartbreakingly, Chef Fati and her friends would not be able to realize her dream of opening the restaurant. "January 7th, I got a text from her," Joe painfully recalled. "She said, 'Hey. I don’t want to bug you right now, but if you’re going to visit, you should come visit.'"
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Story recording and editing: Adam Miller
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