Padma Lakshmi is still mourning the loss of her friend, Fatima Ali. The former Top Chef contestant, who placed seventh in season 15 of the Bravo show, passed away on Friday, January 25. The loss comes nearly a year after Ali announced her cancer had returned, and less than four months after she revealed it was terminal. Ali was 29.
“It’s the first chef that’s been on the show that’s passed away for any reason,” Lakshmi, 48, recently told Variety. “Fatima was a really special young woman. I got very close with her.”
Speaking specifically of Ali, Lakshmi added: “She didn’t even see her 30th birthday. We’re all feeling her absence. She was just one of our brightest stars, so I just feel for her family now.”
Though the host noted she typically doesn’t “fraternize” with the cheftestants during their time on the hit show, she has remained tight with the season 15 cast. “After, I did keep in touch with a lot of them, and it’s really sad,” the Easy Exotic author revealed.
Throughout Ali’s health battle with Ewing’s sarcoma – a terminal cancer of the bone and soft tissue – Lakshmi often accompanied her pal to treatments and helped in any way she could. “Padma has taken out much time for me and my family,” Ali told Us Weekly in October 2018. “Coming to sit with me during chemo, popping in with homemade khichdi (an Indian side dish) or sending over delicious chicken and homemade samosas. While battling cancer, I have had energy for little else sometimes, and knowing that I have such a strong support system around me brings me great peace.”
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Dear friends, I have seen @cheffati grow and blossom every day I walked into the @bravotopchef kitchen. I have seen Fatima’s ambition sharpen over weeks of competition, seen her soar along with all of you. Most of you will read Fatima’s writing for the first time in this @bonappetit piece. Since her diagnosis I have been fortunate enough to get to know her deeper and in a new light. Over these months, I have come to know her family. Her mother has shown me her older writing which is just as poignant. I am pleased to share my friend’s story with you all today. I am so proud of her. I can tell you that in these months I have not only seen her continue to find her voice, but been inspired by her exponentially. I have gotten to know most of her family and in them I see my own. I was in the hospital with her the morning she had surgery months ago and witnessed her courage. The day after my @nytimes piece came out, I went to see her, and she cheered me on by holding my hand from the hospital bed, assuring me I had not flayed myself in vain. I was with her last night as she went in for radiation and she still turned back to smile at her mother and me when the nurse with the wheelchair came. I hope that this year brings her as much as she can hope for. You’ve said on the show that growing up I inspired you. But Fati, now, it’s you who inspire me. Everyday. I love you Fati. Link in bio. #teamfati
Ali’s family confirmed her death in a heartfelt Instagram post shared just hours after she passed away last month. “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,” the post stated. “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.”
Lakshmi shared an emotional Instagram tribute of her own alongside a photo slideshow. “Goodbye lil’ sis,” she wrote. “One of our brightest stars has fallen from the sky.”
Prior to her death, Ali got candid about her terminal diagnosis in an essay published by Bon Appétit’s Healthyish in October 2018: “My oncologist has told me that I have a year to live, with or without the new chemotherapy regimen,” she explained. “I was looking forward to being 30, flirty and thriving. Guess I have to step it up on the flirting. I have no time to lose.”