Top Chef Fan Favorite Fatima Ali Dies at 29

Fatima Ali, a rising star in the culinary world and fan favorite on season 15 of Top Chef, died Friday following nearly a year of treatment for a rare form of bone cancer. She was 29.

A Bravo representative confirmed the sad news in a statement, saying, “We are deeply saddened to share 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.”

During a recent appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Ali discussed the moment in 2017 when she learned she had Ewing’s sarcoma, which is typically seen in children. At the time, persistent pain in her shoulder pushed her to make a doctor’s appointment.

“It was obviously incredibly jarring,” she told DeGeneres of her diagnosis. “It was the biggest shock of my life, but I knew that the only way I was going to beat this was through positivity and rallying the people around me.”

By July 2018, Ali was “technically cancer-free” but underwent preventative chemotherapy for an additional two months. Tragically, as she recounted to DeGeneres, in September she felt “an ache in my left hip and I had this nagging feeling that something wasn’t right.”

It was then Ali received the devastating news that her cancer had metastasized. She was told she had a year to live. The following month, in a poignant essay she penned for Bon Appetit, Ali explained how her newly terminal diagnosis had shifted her perspective.

“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. I am desperate to overload my senses in the coming months, making reservations at the world’s best restaurants, reaching out to past lovers and friends, and smothering my family, giving them the time that I so selfishly guarded before,” Ali wrote.

And those friends and family have already begun expressing their love and admiration for the late chef on social media. Her fellow Top Chef contestants shared photos on Instagram:

Top Chef host and judge Padma Lakshmi, with whom Ali had a very close relationship, posted a touching tribute on Instagram set to the song “So Far Away” by Carole King.

“Goodbye lil’ sis. One of our brightest stars has fallen from the sky…. I have no words, but here are some of hers: ‘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.’”

Late Friday evening, Ali’s family shared a photo collage on her account, along with a heartbreaking statement to her fans.

“Fatima was at home with us, surrounded by her loved ones and beloved cat Mr. Meow, when she left us in the early hours of the morning,” read the caption. “When someone as bright and young and vivacious as our Fati passes, the only metaphor that seems to fit is that of a star — a beacon in the darkness, a light that guides us, on which to make wishes, from which to weave dreams. For all the comfort and beauty they offer us, stars, too, are impermanent. This morning a great one was snuffed out.”

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Fatima was at home with us, surrounded by her loved ones and beloved cat Mr. Meow, when she left us in the early hours of the morning. When someone as bright and young and vivacious as our Fati passes, the only metaphor that seems to fit is that of a star—a beacon in the darkness, a light that guides us, on which to make wishes, from which to weave dreams. For all the comfort and beauty they offer us, stars, too, are impermanent. This morning a great one was snuffed out. Though she’s no longer here with us, her spirit will continue to steer us. We hope that you, too, will listen to her lessons: Live your life as she did—to the fullest. Pursue your passion; spread love and joy; be kind and forgiving; be generous; enjoy every morsel—from humble street food to decadent fine dining; cook for the people you love. Travel the world and seek out adventure. Help others and don’t be afraid to take the road less taken. Fatima will always be a part of us, and in fact if you look deep enough, you may find your own inner Fati. If you’re lucky enough to find her there, trust her, listen to her, because she will change your life for the better. We’ve learned a great deal over the course of her illness, not only pragmatic lessons we wish we hadn’t needed to learn about her disease and our health system, but about the immense love of which people are capable; about the power of being true to yourself; about how we can be better if we model ourselves after someone like her. We want to thank everyone from the bottom of our now broken hearts. We’re eternally grateful for the unending support, love, and generosity shown by people along the way—from random strangers we passed on the street who would tell her how much they admire and respect her; to all her doctors and nurses who did their best; the chefs and hospitality friends who are now part of our extended family; and the big wigs that reached out to see how they can make her dreams a reality. This has been a truly humbling experience for us all and even in her last chapter as she began to leave us, Fatima showed us how we should live.

A post shared by Fatima Ali (@cheffati) on

In an extended statement, Ali’s family shared a sentiment she wanted to relay, emphasizing, “Fati’s final message to us, before she took her leave, was that we should only have space in our hearts for love, compassion, forgiveness — anything else is just taking up space.”

Prior to her death, Ali’s friends and family established a GoFundMe campaign to help her achieve her dream of traveling the world and sampling its finest food. The remainder of the more than $97,000 that was raised will now be given to the Sarcoma Foundation of America.

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