Fatima Ali had the support of the entire Bravo's Top Chef family during her battle with Ewing's sarcoma, a type of bone and soft tissue cancer, especially host Padma Lakshmi, who comforted the Season 15 Fan Favorite winner with visits in the hospital and home-cooked meals. Following Fatima's passing at age 29 on January 25, Padma opened up about her connection with the late chef and the lasting impression she made on her life in a new essay for PEOPLE.
Padma shared that she saw her "younger self in Fatima" as she competed in Season 15 of Top Chef. She also wrote that the two "connected as immigrants and as women of color working in food."
Of course, the news of Fatima's terminal cancer diagnosis last fall was devastating for Padma. "When I heard she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, I felt punched in the gut," Padma shared. "It seemed cruel, striking one so young, so kind, so talented."
Padma said that she tried to be there for Fatima in any way she could during her final months. "As she got sicker, I made apple pie and delivered her samosas. We shared dinners and cracked jokes— anything to lighten the mood. I got to know her family, who seemed just like mine," she wrote. "I tried to accept that this wonderful girl, whom I had mentored, laughed and bonded with so much, would not live to see her 30th birthday."
Though Fatima was only in Padma's life for a short amount of time, the late chef has changed it forever. "You couldn’t know Fatima without falling in love with her. Her self-awareness, strength and humor were boundless, even until the very end," Padma wrote. "She showed me that life is truly beautiful and fleeting. She made me appreciate sunlight on my face, the sound of laughter, the smell of cake baking. Fatima’s life was short, but her imprint on me will be there forever."
Padma ended the touching tribute with one final goodbye to her dear friend: "Goodbye, Fati. I will never forget you."
Padma previously paid tribute to Fatima shortly after her passing on Instagram. "Goodbye lil’ sis. One of our brightest stars has fallen from the sky...." she wrote in a post that featured photos of the late cheftestant.
The Top Chef host also honored Fatima's memory by sharing a video of her singing along to "Colors of the Wind" from Pocahontas. "Goodnight angel," Padma wrote on Instagram.
Tributes have poured in from many of Fatima's loved ones since her passing last week, including her family, her fellow Top Chef Season 15 contestants, the Top Chef judges, Andy Cohen, and Ellen DeGeneres.