Fatima Ali, who was crowned “Fan Favorite” of the most recent season of Bravo’s Top Chef, died on Friday after a yearlong struggle with cancer. Surrounded by her friends and family, Ali passed after being given a year to live only months after her success on Top Chef. Her family posted a tribute to her Instagram page, calling Ali “bright and young and vivacious” amongst a collage of photographs from the chef’s young life.

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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. When someone as bright and young and vivacious as our Fati passes, the only metaphor that seems to fit is that of a star—a beacon in the darkness, a light that guides us, on which to make wishes, from which to weave dreams. For all the comfort and beauty they offer us, stars, too, are impermanent. This morning a great one was snuffed out. 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. Pursue your passion; spread love and joy; be kind and forgiving; be generous; enjoy every morsel—from humble street food to decadent fine dining; cook for the people you love. Travel the world and seek out adventure. Help others and don’t be afraid to take the road less taken. Fatima will always be a part of us, and in fact if you look deep enough, you may find your own inner Fati. If you’re lucky enough to find her there, trust her, listen to her, because she will change your life for the better. We’ve learned a great deal over the course of her illness, not only pragmatic lessons we wish we hadn’t needed to learn about her disease and our health system, but about the immense love of which people are capable; about the power of being true to yourself; about how we can be better if we model ourselves after someone like her. We want to thank everyone from the bottom of our now broken hearts. We’re eternally grateful for the unending support, love, and generosity shown by people along the way—from random strangers we passed on the street who would tell her how much they admire and respect her; to all her doctors and nurses who did their best; the chefs and hospitality friends who are now part of our extended family; and the big wigs that reached out to see how they can make her dreams a reality. This has been a truly humbling experience for us all and even in her last chapter as she began to leave us, Fatima showed us how we should live.

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Ali began her journey when she was just 18 years old, leaving her native Pakistan for New York City to attend the Culinary Institute of America. She was the first Pakistani woman to appear on an episode of Chopped in 2012 (which she won), and had already climbed to become the executive sous chef at New York’s La Fonda Del Sol before she appeared on this past season of Top Chef. On the show, Ali placed fifteenth, but was adored by fans, fellow competitors, and the show’s host Padma Lakshmi.

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Only months after the show ended, however, a persistent ache in her shoulder sent Ali to the emergency room, where she was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer. After eight rounds of chemotherapy, the cancer returned in her leg, and this time it had metastasized. Doctors gave her a year to live, which Ali took on with optimism and determination, setting a number of goals for herself which she wrote about in an essay for Bon Apetit. In November, she fulfilled her lifelong dream of being on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, where she discussed her diagnosis and how she had “so many things” she wanted to do before she passed.

Fellow Top Chef contestants Bruce Kalman and Brother Luck expressed their grief on Instagram, and Lakshmi posted an emotional tribute calling Ali her “lil’ sis.”

As one of her last projects, Ali recorded a recipe a day with her brother, who will likely publish them in a cookbook to honor her legacy.

 

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