Chef Fatima Ali has a new outlook on life.
The former season 15 Top Chef contestant recently penned an emotional essay for Bon Appétit’s Healthyish section after learning her cancer had returned. Doctors told the New York City-based chef she only had one year to live.
“A cloud of death is following me. It’s followed me all the way to the first class lounge at LAX. I have never flown anything but basic economy on a domestic flight, but my illness has forced me to upgrade my life,” she wrote.
“When we think we have all the time in the world to live, we forget to indulge in the experiences of living,” she continued. “When that choice is yanked away from us, that’s when we scramble to feel.”
Ali was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare malignant tumour found in bones of soft tissue, after she left the show earlier this year. After months of chemotherapy, the cancer cells that doctors originally told her had “vanished” returned in her left hip and femur bone.
“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.”
And as tragic as the news is, Ali said her perspective on life has completely changed, and instead of focusing on the cancer, she is letting her guard down to enjoy life.
“An odd sense of relief has settled inside me, knowing that I can finally live for myself, even if it’s just for a few more precious months. I call a local hair stylist to come to my hospital room to dye half my hair platinum blonde and buzz the rest,” she wrote.
“He panics a little as he’s setting up, whispering to my brother in his thick Italian accent. ‘The dye… it won’t, uh, burn her scalp will it?’ I tell him to carry on even if it does. It’s the only sense of control I feel like I have right now. I have embraced my alter ego. She doesn’t hold back.”
And because her world revolves around food, she plans on eating her way through New York City and beyond in the next year — she even booked a seat at René Redzepi’s world-renowned restaurant Noma in Copenhagen.
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In May, Ali wrote another piece for Bon Appétit on how her cancer changed the way she cooked. After losing motion in her left hand following surgery and chemotherapy, she worried if she would still be able to continue with her craft.
“The edges of my thoughts are tinged with worry, but I know that my love for food and cooking is so strong inside me that even cancer can’t cut it down.”
On Wednesday, Top Chef host chef Padma Lakshmi shared Ali’s essay on social media, along with a message of how proud she was.
“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,” she wrote on Instagram.
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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
“Since her diagnosis I have been fortunate enough to get to know her deeper and in a new light,” she continued. “You’ve said on [Top Chef] that growing up I inspired you. But Fati, now, it’s you who inspire me.”
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