Why Fatima Ali Cherished Even Her Most Chaotic Days as a Chef: “I Wouldn’t Change Anything”

Why Fatima Ali Cherished Even Her Most Chaotic Days as a Chef: “I Wouldn’t Change Anything”

Reflecting on her career after her terminal cancer diagnosis, Bravo's Top Chef fan favorite winner Fatima Ali recalled, "It was amazing."

By Alesandra Dubin

Fatima Ali lost her battle with cancer on January 25 at age 29, but even after her death, she's still sharing resonant, poignant stories. To honor her memory on the day she died, Bon Appétit published a powerful essay she wrote before she passed away. In it, the Bravo's Top Chef Season 15's Fan Favorite winner shared more about the "bucket list" of restaurants and food experiences she had created and was moving through, including a cherished restaurant experience that brought her family to tears. She also revealed that she had been writing recipes daily in her final months, and her brother wants to compile them some day.

And she shared stories from earlier in her chef career, carefully noting how much she loved every moment of it — even when it got chaotic.

"My first job was at an Indian-Latin restaurant in New York. I was a floor manager and the sous chef at the same time, weirdly enough. So I spent three days in the front, and four days in the back. I was doing seven-day weeks, 14-hour days. I did that for nine months. Later, at another job, my executive chef quit suddenly, as they often do. I was just a 21-year-old junior sous chef, but suddenly in charge of the whole place," she recalled.

"I worked breakfast, lunch, dinner, catered all these super-VIP holiday parties. I’d get home at 1 a.m then have to wake up at 4 a.m. for a private breakfast party. One time several cooks called out and then the person who was transporting the catering trays dropped them all onto the pedestrian walk at 45th St. and Lexington Ave. In the middle of lunch rush. We had to remake everything, with all the cooks missing. There were plenty of days like that."

And she remembered these intensely demanding moments only with fondness. "But you know what? It was amazing. Managing to get through a day like that — and not only living to tell about it, but doing it again and again — I think it really makes you understand what a human is capable of. We’re so resilient. If I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t change anything."

She also added the unique life education she received in her training as a chef. "My brother and I were talking the other day and he made an interesting point. He was like, 'As chefs, you guys deal with death every day.' And he’s right. When you’re a chef, you understand the circle of life. We're butchering rabbits, whole hogs, and baby lambs; we’re filleting fish and cleaning shrimp. All these things have died for us. I suppose you have to see it as the natural progress of life. Perhaps I've had to face it a little bit sooner than expected, but it's not an unfamiliar feeling."

If you would like to donate to the Sarcoma Foundation of America, visit curesarcoma.org.

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