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Style & Living Top Chef

Padma Lakshmi Explains Why She Was So Hard on Fatima Ali as a Top Chef Competitor

Bravo's Top Chef judge Padma Lakshmi reflects on her time with Fatima Ali following her passing at age 29.

By Alesandra Dubin
Celebrating the Life of Bravo's Top Chef Alum Fatima Ali

Padma Lakshmi was a devoted friend to Fatima Ali, the Season 15 Fan Favorite winner of Bravo's Top Chef, who passed away after a battle with cancer on January 25 at age 29. She brought home-cooked meals to comfort Chef Fati during her illness, and paid a moving tribute to her "lil' sis" following her passing.

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But during Fatima's run on Top Chef, Padma did not go easy on the formidable competitor. And in an essay Padma penned for People in tribute to the late chef, she explained why.

"I first got to know Fatima through her food. I was hard on her — not with my judging but with the tenor of my feedback," Padma explained. "Not only did I think she could take it, but I knew she wanted me to give it to her straight. I could feel how focused she was."

Indeed, in Fatima's final essay, published posthumously in Bon Appetit, she recalled that even the most stressful days in her career as a chef were "amazing," formative, and she wouldn't have changed them for anything

Padma continued, "She was different. When the show aired in 2018, I saw the other side of her — how funny she was, how keenly she got the psychology of the contest. It’s a trait you have to possess to succeed, and I knew Fatima had it and would go far."

So Padma's feedback on the show was not ordinary criticism — but a marker of her respect for the budding culinary luminary, and a commitment to guide her inevitable success.

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