Ben Watkins, a rising young culinary star who appeared in the sixth season of MasterChef Junior, died Monday of a rare form of cancer, his family said. He was 14.
“Our Ben went home to be with his mother this afternoon, after a year and a half of fighting cancer,” said Donna Edwards and Anthony Edwards, Ben’s maternal grandmother and uncle, in a statement Monday on a GoFundMe page called # Love4Ben. “Ben suffered more than his share during his fourteen years on this Earth, but we take comfort in the fact that his suffering is finally over and that Ben finally knows that he is loved so much,”
Trent McCain, campaign organizer GoFundMe and the family’s lawyer, said in a statement that Ben was an inspiration. “I saw humanity and kindness up close with the outpouring of love and support that Ben has received over the last three years,” Mr McCain said.
Ben appeared in Fox’s MasterChef Junior in 2018 at the age of 11. He was one of six children in Chicago who appeared on the program that same year.
In the show’s premiere episode, which featured 40 contestants between the ages of 8 and 13 vying for 24 slots and a chance to win $ 100,000 in the final, Ben grabbed the last white apron of the night by making a peach shoemaker with a bat. cream and caramel sauce.
Ben ranked in the top 18 of the show and became a fan favorite, especially when viewers learned about his family history.
In September 2017, Ben’s father, Michael Watkins, shot Ben’s mother, Layla Edwards, before committing suicide in Gary, Indiana, according to The Chicago Tribune. Ben’s grandmother and uncle became his legal guardians.
At the time, Ben had expressed his desire to become a chef and dreamed of having his own restaurant, like his father, who had opened Bodacious Barbecue & Deli at Big Gary in Gary. The restaurant, noted The Tribune, is named after Ben.
Ben also worked at his father’s restaurant, the newspaper said, managing the cash register, taking orders and selling his own homemade cookies, brownies, cinnamon rolls and banana bread. He attributed his baking skills to his mother, saying: “My mother taught me everything she knew. Or I just took it looking at her. “
A statement from the show’s Instagram account said that Ben had a “remarkably positive attitude” and was a “huge role model” for chefs of all ages.
Gordon Ramsey, the famous chef and host of MasterChef Junior, said on Tuesday that Ben was a talented home cook and a strong young man. “Your young life has had such difficult twists and turns, but you have always persevered,” Mr Ramsey said.
Shortly after his 13th birthday, Ben was diagnosed with angiomatoid fibrous histiocyte, his family said. The condition is a rare soft tissue tumor that most commonly occurs in children and young people, according to the US National Library of Medicine.
Mr Edwards, Ben’s uncle, told The Tribune in August that doctors two years ago thought the growing tumor in Ben’s neck was deformed in the lymph nodes. “But even after treatment, the tumor continued to bleed,” he said.
In late July, Ben began chemotherapy treatment for tumors in his lung, spine and shoulder, The Tribune reported.
Ben’s family and community came together behind him.
Katie Clark, a family friend, told the newspaper that, like her mother, Ben could light a room. “He is polite, outgoing, smart, funny and stays that way even in adolescence, which is not always the case with children entering this phase of life,” she said.