Months before Top Chef alum and fan favorite Fatima Ali lost her battle to cancer, she shared her plans for how she planned to live out the remainder of her life.
Ali didn’t want to lament about being robbed of time or “all the things that weren’t right,” she wrote in an essay Bon Appetit published online after the chef's death Friday.
“I’m using cancer as the excuse I needed to actually go and get things done, and the more people I share those thoughts with, the more I hold myself to them,” Ali said. “If I write this intention down, if I have it printed somewhere like I do here, I have to hold myself responsible, because I have people counting on me.”
Ali, who was 29, wrote the essay in November and it was intended to run in Bon Appettit’s March issue. But the magazine ran it online early following her death to “share her perspective and honor her memory.”
Ali described how her desire to become a chef was inspired by her childhood in Pakistan, where she often cooked with her grandmother.
She described graduating from the Culinary Institute of America and the backbreaking days that followed as she worked in a series of jobs as a low-level cook and manager in various New York restaurants.
She received her first cancer diagnosis in 2017, just after she finished filming “Top Chef: Colordao,” the cooking competition's 15th season.
A sharp, nonstop pain in her shoulder eventually led her to the ER — and cancer treatment just weeks later.
“Honestly, until your first chemo cycle, I don’t think it really hits you,” Ali wrote. “Then your hair starts falling out, and finally you’re like, ‘This is actually happening. This is the rest of my life’ I did eight rounds of chemo. It was horrible, but at the end, my scans were all clear. I thought I’d beaten it. Then it came back. Worse than before. It was metastatic. It had spread to my lungs. The doctors told me I had a year to live.”
Ali said that’s when she decided “to live my life.” She wrote out a recipe a day with her brother. She ate at numerous restaurants in New York, and she planned out trips to Austria and Italy where she could live out food-related adventures.
She ended her essay admitting to feeling a mixture of fear and courage.
“There are days that I'm exceptionally afraid. There are days I sit alone and cry, because I don't want to do it in front of my family. And there are other days that we all sit down and cry together, because it is such a scary thing,” she said. “But at the same time, you can't let that fear cripple you. It's harder being miserable than it is to be happy.”
Ali appeared on the 15th season of Bravo’s hit reality show. She did not win but was named the "fan favorite" by viewers won over by her "fun personality" and her "unique, Pakistan-inspired cuisine." She also won over the hearts of her fellow contestants, judges and many others in the industry.
Among those who posted tributes to her was "Top Chef" host Padma Lakshmi, who mourned the loss of her "lil' sis" in a series of Instagram posts.