Fatima Ali, 'Top Chef' fan favorite, dies at 29
Posted January 25, 2019 8:49 p.m. EST
CNN — Fatima Ali, the fan favorite of the previous season of Bravo's "Top Chef," died Friday after a nearly yearlong battle with cancer, the network said. She was 29.
Ali came in seventh on season 15 but won the Fan Favorite title when the season ended early last year. She was known for her "fun personality and excellent cooking" of food from her native Pakistan, Bravo said.
Ali publicly documented her battle with cancer since being diagnosed at the end of 2017 with Ewing's sarcoma, a type of bone and soft tissue cancer, Bravo said. She had chemotherapy and surgery to remove a tumor and surrounding cells in her left shoulder in January 2018.
Doctors declared her cancer-free about a month later, the network said, but last October, Ali revealed in an online essay that her cancer was "back with a vengeance" and she had a year to live.
"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," Ali wrote on the website Healthyish. "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 posted pictures of herself during cancer treatment on her Instagram page, sharing her struggle with fatigue even as she flashed a warm smile. She also continued posting pictures of appetizing food, from lamb koftas and kebabs to New York pizza and Korean barbecue.
Her fellow "Top Chef" contestants posted tributes to Ali on Friday. They included chef Bruce Kalman, who wrote, "I will miss you Fati, and you will be in my heart forever. I'll always remember the great times we had."
Ellen DeGeneres, who had Ali on her show late last year, posted a picture on Twitter from the interview.
"I was lucky to share this visit with Fatima. I wish I could have shared more. Sending so much love to her family. I hope they find comfort in knowing how much light she brought to the world," DeGeneres wrote.
Ali left her hometown at 18 to pursue her dream of becoming a chef, the network said in a statement Friday after her death. She enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America and started working in New York restaurants, eventually becoming executive sous chef at Macy's Stella 34 and La Fonda Del Sol, Bravo said.
She was a contestant on the Food Network show "Chopped" in 2012 and won.
When she first appeared on "Top Chef," Ali told Bravo, she was hesitant to cook Pakistani food, even though she was passionate about it.
"I wasn't sure if the judges were even going to be excited about eating that kind of food, but they were, and that really reinforced a lot of faith in the food that I want to cook," she said.
Ali hoped to open her own restaurant in New York one day.
"I dream of my future restaurant, where the kebabs melt against your tongue and the cocktails are just sweet enough to calm the burn," she wrote on Healthyish in May 2018. "I have never felt more fulfilled than when I let myself crawl into bed late night after a back-breaking day of cooking."
In her last Instagram post, on January 10, Ali smiled at the camera from a hospital bed.
"I'm sick and unfortunately I'm getting sicker," she wrote. "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.
"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."