Three months after Top Chef contestant Fatima Ali died from rare bone cancer at age 29, a memorial service was held for her, and was attended by show host Padma Lakshmi, who said it stirred up all the emotions she felt when Ali died in January.
“Last Sunday friends and family got together for the memorial of our dear departed friend,” wrote Lakshmi, who thought of Ali as a “lil sis.” “While it was so comforting to be with her family, it brought back all of the raw feelings that I had just very recently managed to somewhat put away. ”
Lakshmi went on to talk about Ali, voted “Fan Favorite” on Top Chef, recently winning a posthumous Beard Foundation Award for the essay she wrote for Bon Appétit: “I’m a Chef with Terminal Cancer. This Is What I’m Doing with the Time I Have Left.” Ali’s brother accepted the award on her behalf, sitting next to chefs Dave Chang (star of Ugly Delicious) and Samin Nosrat (Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat), and he told Lakshmi “how much [Fatima] would have loved being there.”
Lakshmi also reflected on her relationship with Ali during Season 15 of the Bravo food show, calling the Culinary Institute of America grad “a quick learner and ambitious as hell.” She recalled one episode in which she ripped Ali ”about not choosing between cooking delicious Pakistani street food or doing Western haute cuisine... She took that critique, absorbed it, and immediately in the next challenge did a version of that.”
But Lakshmi also reflected on their relationship in general. “As a brown woman in professional life, but especially in the male-dominated field of food, we both connected over feeling like outsiders at times,” Lakshmi, who is Indian, wrote of Ali, who grew up in Pakistan. “After last week’s ceremony there is no doubt that there was a place for Fatima at the table. I couldn’t be more proud of you, grasshopper.”
Lakshmi said on Watch What Happens Live in February that after Ali’s season of the show ended — which was also the time Ali was diagnosed with bone and soft-tissue Ewing’s sarcoma — she became very close to the young chef and her family. Lakshmi was with Ali when she had one of her first surgeries. While she was briefly cancer-free, the cancer returned last October and doctors said she had a year to live, but it wound up being much less.
After Ali passed in January, Bon Appétit republished an expanded version of her now award-winning essay.
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