Fatima Ali died last week, the 29-year old chef having succumbed to a rare form of cancer. It was in an October Bon Appetit article that the Top Chef contestant first revealed her terminal diagnosis and the plans she had for her final days. Now, a week after her passing, Bon Appetit has shared another piece Ali wrote prior to her passing, one that serves as an illustration of how she sought to indulge in her love of family, friends, and food while she was still alive.
“What is my intention? To live my life. To fulfill all those genuine dreams I have,” she writes. “I’m going out to eat. I’m making plans for vacations. I’m finding experimental treatments. I’m cooking. I’m writing.”
Memories of her childhood in Pakistan and her early days working around the clock at New York City restaurants merge with a description of her latter-day pursuits. She and her brother, for example, challenged each other to write a recipe a day. “Every day I come up with a recipe I’ve never made before, write it down in a notebook, make a little drawing of it, go shopping for those ingredients, and cook it,” she writes. “My brother wants to compile them all. He’ll turn them into something one day.”
She also reflects on the bucket list restaurants she hit up in her final months, including Vespertine, Broken Spanish, and Kismet. There’s also her trip to the legendary Eleven Madison Park, where the manager made a replica of Ali’s food stall, VanPakistan, in the kitchen. “Down to the tablecloth. Down to the kind of napkin dispenser I had. The chef made the most delicious, melt-in-your-mouth Seekh kebabs I’ve ever had, with flatbread and pickled onions and green chutney they had made just for me,” she writes. “My mom was in tears, bawling. My older brother was crying. Everyone was hugging each other. We were blown away.”
The joy in her writing is lovely and hopeful in light of her illness, and there’s a peacefulness that exudes when she discusses the chef’s relationship with death. “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,” she writes. “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.”
Read her full essay here ahead of its publication in Bon Appetit’s March print issue.