Padma Lakshmi Pays Tribute to Late Fatima Ali: You Changed My Life Forever

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Last week, Top Chef fans were devastated by news that one of the show's most beloved contestants, Fatima Ali had passed away at the age of 29.

The news was not unexpected, as Ali had been battling bone cancer for over a year.

Fatima Ali in the Hospital

In October of 2018, Ali revealed that her diagnosis was terminal, and she had been given less than a year to live.

In a heartbreaking and beautiful piece for Bon Appetit, Ali shared her thoughts on dying young, and stated that she hoped to spend her last year on earth traveling the world, eating at the finest restaurants, and reconnecting with old friends.

Sadly, the disease was more aggressive than doctors anticipated, and Ali passed less than four months after her diagnosis.

Chef Fatima With Friends

Fortunately, in her final days, Fatima was able to spend time plenty of quality time with her childhood idol -- who became her lifelong friend.

Top Chef host and producer Padma Lakshmi not only visited Ali several times during her various hospital stays, she reportedly dropped everything to rush to Fatima's side on several occasions.

Today, Lakshmi paid tribute to her departed friend in a heartfelt essay published by People magazine.

Padma and Fatima

"There are people who come across your path who change you forever," Lakshmi writes.

"I met Fatima on the first day of filming Top Chef in Colorado. She was hard to miss. She was beautiful, but that's not what struck me.

"There was a strong defiance in her posture; her hands folded across her slim frame, her lower lip jutting out slightly, a Mona Lisa smile to hide her nervousness. I noticed the glint in her eye and that serious look of determination."

Padma With Fatima

Padma goes on to discuss the mentor-protege relationship that she developed with Fatima.

"I first got to know Fatima through her food," the essay continues.

"I was hard on her—not with my judging but with the tenor of my feedback. 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.

"I challenged her openly to do better because I knew she could. I saw my younger self in Fatima."

Padma Lakshmi Close Up

Lakshmi says she and Ali "connected as immigrants and as women of color working in food."

She goes on to describe feeling "punched in the gut" upon learning of Ali's terminal diagnosis.

"It seemed cruel, striking one so young, so kind, so talented," Lakshmi writes.

"As she got sicker, I made apple pie and delivered her samosas. We shared dinners and cracked jokes— anything to lighten the mood. I got to know her family, who seemed just like mine.

Fatima Ali in Bed

"I tried to accept that this wonderful girl, whom I had mentored, laughed and bonded with so much, would not live to see her 30th birthday.

"You couldn't know Fatima without falling in love with her," Lakshmi concludes.

She made me appreciate sunlight on my face, the sound of laughter, the smell of cake baking. Fatima's life was short, but her imprint on me will be there forever."

Chef Fatima Photo

On Instagram, Padma was just as moving in paying tribute to her friend:

"Goodbye lil’ sis," Lakshmi captioned a set of photos of Fatima.

"One of our brightest stars has fallen from the sky.... I have no words, but here are some of hers:

Fatima Ali

'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.'”

Our thoughts go out to Chef Fatima's family at this incredibly difficult time.

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Padma Lakshmi Biography

Padma Lakshmi Pic
Padma Lakshmi is the host of Top Chef on Bravo. She's an Indian American cookbook author, actress, and former model. Lakshmi has posed... More »
Full Name
Padma Parvati Lakshmi