Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Padma Lakshmi says late Top Chef alum Fatima Ali changed her life forever.
The 48-year-old Top Chef host paid tribute to Ali in an essay People published Tuesday following the Season 15 contestant's death from a rare form of bone cancer.
"I met Fatima on the first day of filming Top Chef in Colorado. She was hard to miss. She was beautiful, but that's not what struck me," Lakshmi recalled.
"There was a strong defiance in her posture; her hands folded across her slim frame, her lower lip jutting out slightly, a Mona Lisa smile to hide her nervousness," she said. "I noticed the glint in her eye and that serious look of determination."
Lakshmi said she saw her younger self in Ali and purposely challenged the chef during her time on the show. She also connected to Ali as a fellow immigrant and woman of color working in the food industry.
"When I heard she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, I felt punched in the gut," the star said. "As she got sicker, I made apple pie and delivered her samosas. We shared dinners and cracked jokes -- anything to lighten the mood."
"You couldn't know Fatima without falling in love with her. Her self-awareness, strength and humor were boundless, even until the very end," she lauded. "Fatima's life was short, but her imprint on me will be there forever."
Ali died Friday at age 29 at her family's home in San Marino, Calif., according to The New York Times. She had announced in 2017 that she was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a type of cancer which affects bone and soft tissue.
Lakshmi honored Ali in a tweet the same day as the chef's death.
"Goodbye lil' sis. One of our brightest stars has fallen from the sky.... I have no words, but here are some of hers: 'I dream of being better. I dream of being myself again, but I know I'll never quite be the same, and that's okay. I look forward to meeting that woman one day,'" the star wrote.
Goodbye lil’ sis. One of our brightest stars has fallen from the sky.... I have no words, but here are some of hers: “I dream of being better. I dream of being myself again, but I know I’ll never quite be the same, and that’s okay. I look forward to meeting that woman one day.” pic.twitter.com/JThpUIbtk7— Padma Lakshmi (@PadmaLakshmi) January 26, 2019
Ali was voted Fan Favorite during her time on Top Chef Season 15, which ended in March 2018. Joseph Flamm ultimately won the season.