The Heartbreaking 2019 Death Of Chopped's Fatima Ali

Born in 1989 in Lahore, Pakistan, chef Fatima Ali left her home at age 18. After launching a promising career in the cutthroat world of cooking, the "Chopped" contestant and "Top Chef" star died of cancer on January 25, 2019, per The New York Times. A few months before her untimely death, she expressed the struggles of her diagnosis with Ewings Sarcoma, a rare cancer that affects bone and soft tissue, in Bon Appétit. In her journey to treat the illness, Ali underwent surgery that permanently hindered the range of motion in her left arm. Her experiences with chemotherapy left her often unable to stomach the same foods she once loved, she confessed in an earlier article for Bon Appétit.

Despite these battles, Ali continued to dream of the aromas, flavors, and textures of the foods that shaped her identity. She wrote about longing for her mother's daal chawal, a Pakistani staple of yellow lentils and rice. She also dreamed of her future restaurant, "where the kebabs melt against your tongue and the cocktails are just sweet enough to calm the burn." But Ali soon realized her story would be cut short, and instead of starting her own restaurant, she devised a plan to eat her way through New York and its boroughs. She dreamed of decadent uni and truffle toast at Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, spice-laden Szechuan hot pot in Flushing, and exquisite and expensive Japanese food at Masa's sushi emporium.

A posthumous memoir celebrates Fatima Ali's legacy

"Savor: A Chef's Hunger for More," Fatima Ali's post-humous memoir, gives insight into her life (via Penguin Random House). In a journey between past and present, between the markets of Karachi and Michelin-starred kitchens, Ali reveals her life and identity as a chef, a daughter, and a queer woman forced to reconcile with cultural barriers and traditions. In part of the memoir, the ambitious chef recounts overcoming the challenges of her first externship at Café Centro, a bustling French eatery in Manhattan, while still a student at the Culinary Institute of America (per Bon Appétit). Although she claimed she was worried about how she would be treated as a Muslim woman, she soon learned to exude confidence in her work.

Later, as she prepared for her valedictorian speech from culinary school, Ali remembers how she pledged to use her privilege for good and feed hungry Pakistani children. Chef Ali set new records and transgressed traditional boundaries, becoming the first Pakistani woman to win Food Network's "Chopped," inspiring Pakistani girls and all girls around the world, to chase their dreams. The new book is not simply a memoir of her cancer, nor is it a story of the secrets behind starring on reality cooking shows. Fatima Ali's story is one of willpower and courage, and according to the New York Times, one that "emerges as a sort of 'Life Confidential.'"