I have to admit, when Chef Fatima Ali’s first order came through in late November, I didn’t recognize her name. While we supply spices to many notable chefs across the country, I haven’t watched too many cooking shows.
A few days after placing an order, Chef Fati sent me a direct message.
“Hi there! I recently ordered some of your product and fell in love with it- the quality of the product and the packaging have me hooked and I’m looking to purchase quite a few for gifts for chefs.”
Chef Fati continued, “I’m going through a unique time in my life … where I will be traveling the world, eating at the best restaurants and wanted to leave them with gifts.”
Chef Fati was gently asking to work out a deal with us. She also mentioned wanting to post something about us on her “small but growing” Instagram account. “I’ll order anyway even if you can’t do something. I know you’re a small business.”
Wow, I thought to myself. This woman is a terrible negotiator. And she is incredibly sweet. Without knowing anything about her, I agreed and gave her a big discount.
The next day, while processing her order, I became curious. I Googled “Chef Fati.” I was floored by what I saw.
Top Chef star…incurable cancer…one year to live...
Never once in Fati’s messages had she shared any of this info to impress me or to get a deal. She was clearly a very special person. I was honored that she wanted to share our stuff with the most famous chefs in the world.
I never expected Chef Fati to actually post anything for us. After all, the sparse and sad photos on Fati’s Instagram feed suggested that she didn’t have long to live. The last thing on her mind was going to be doing some kind of promotion.
And, of course, I was totally fine with that. I felt terrible about her diagnosis and was happy to help her try to get the most out of her remaining days.
Then something unexpected happened. On December 20, my phone started lighting up with Instagram notifications.
In fact, my phone lit up so often, it drained the battery and shut the phone down. Hundreds and hundreds of new people followed our Instagram page @ReluctantTrading.
Chef Fati posted a photo of our products, telling everyone how much she loves Reluctant Trading. I soon realized that Chef Fati’s “small, but growing Instagram following” was actually 168k. About 167k more than our own.
I rushed off a direct message to Fati, profusely thanking her and wishing her good health. I figured that was the end of our story together.
But I was wrong.
A couple of weeks later, on January 10, my phone started lighting up again with new Instagram followers. I was thoroughly confused until I visited Chef Fati’s feed.
Chef Fati posted a photo of herself from her hospital room. She said that she was “sick and getting sicker.” So why was I getting more Instagram followers? Apparently, people were also looking at her recent posts, and then clicking over to follow us at Reluctant Trading.
Unfortunately, as the news was getting worse for Chef Fati, Reluctant Trading was benefiting. It made me feel really uncomfortable.
On Friday January 25, my phone started lighting up again. This time, I had a bad feeling about it. My heart sank when I read the news. Chef Fati had passed away.
I had been thinking a lot about how to do something good with all of the positive energy that Chef Fati is sending our way.
That night, Chef Fati’s loved ones posted some beautiful words about her on her Instagram page that inspired me. I printed this part out and posted it on the wall next to my desk:
We hope that you, too, will listen to her lessons: Live your life as she did—to the fullest. Pursue your passion; spread love and joy; be kind and forgiving; be generous; enjoy every morsel—from humble street food to decadent fine dining; cook for the people you love. Travel the world and seek out adventure. Help others and don’t be afraid to take the road less taken.
The thoughts touched and inspired me.
Maybe we can start following this advice by trying to find a cure for the terrible cancer that took Chef Fati at such a young age.
On 1/26/19 and 1/27/19, we held a fundraiser and gave all the profits from our sales at ReluctantTrading.com to The Sarcoma Foundation of America. (While the fundraiser is over, you can still make a donation in Chef Fati's memory directly to SFA.)
I am looking forward to getting to know Fatima a little better and will be spending time watching Top Chef, Season 15.
My sincere and heartfelt thoughts go out to Fatima’s family, friends, and fans. She will not be forgotten.
The Reluctant Trading Experiment