Top Chef alum Fatima Ali died of cancer last week at age 29, little more than three months after she revealed in a poignant essay that she had just one year to live. Now, Bon Appetit is running another essay she wrote shortly before her death, in which Ali recalled the cultural significance of food in her home country of Pakistan, where her grandmother started teaching her to cook at age 6 or 7. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 2011, she cooked for her family every time she returned home to visit, but decided to stay in New York to learn all she could about the restaurant industry—a journey she also recalled in the essay, noting that there were tough days, but they taught her how resilient she was. "If I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t change anything."
She was diagnosed with the rare Ewings Sarcoma in 2017 after months of shoulder pain finally became too much to take; chemo was "horrible," but seemed to work: "I thought I’d beaten it. Then it came back. Worse than before." But, she wrote in the essay, seeing so many other sick people gave her perspective, and she decided that even with her grim prognosis, it could be worse—she was lucky to still be able to do so many things she enjoyed. "I’m using cancer as the excuse I needed to actually go and get things done," she wrote. She added that, as her brother pointed out, chefs deal with death on a daily basis. "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 in full here.)