MasterChef Junior, a fun spin-off of MasterChef, first debuted in the U.S. in 2013, offering young, aspiring chefs the chance to showcase their skills on national TV, per Bustle.
It can be a humbling experience, watching a 13-year-old dominate the kitchen, and while the show offers this awe-inspiring talent, it has also introduced viewers to some remarkable young humans, most notably Ben Watkins. Ben joined MasterChef Junior in Season 6 in 2018, according to The New York Times, and he was only 11 years old when he became a fan-favorite.
Shortly after he turned 13, Ben was diagnosed with angiomatoid fibrous histiocytoma, a rare soft tissue tumor, according to The New York Times. In fact, the illness is so rare that Ben was only one of six people in the world to be diagnosed with it, as TMZ reported.
Ben passed away on Nov. 16, 2020 at age 14 while staying at the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, according to TMZ. Ben is greatly missed by his family and the community that cheered him on during his time on MasterChef Junior. Here’s everything to know about this remarkable young man.
Ben Watkins has a heartbreaking past
Ben Watkins learned to cook at his father’s restaurant, Big Ben’s Bodacious Barbecue & Deli, according to The Chicago Tribune, and he aspired to one day open a restaurant of his own. Ben’s father, Michael Watkins, named the restaurant after his son.
Ben’s father and mother, Leila Edwards, moved to Gary, Ind., in 2001 after leaving Chicago to get away from potential dangers in a big city, per the Tribune. Ben worked for his father at his restaurant, running the register, taking orders, and even selling his own baking. Ben listed off his favorite things to bake: “Cookies, brownies, cinnamon rolls, banana bread, lots of other stuff,” per the Tribune.
Ben’s mother was a stained glass artist and jewelry maker. “My mom taught me everything she knew,” Ben said of his mother. “Or I just picked it up by watching her.”
On Sept. 16, 2017, when Ben was just 11, his father killed his mother and then killed himself. Police ruled the incident a murder-suicide, per the Tribune. Afterward, Ben was raised by his maternal grandmother and uncle, Donna Edwards and Anthony Edwards.
It was following this tragedy that Ben joined MasterChef Junior and, according to The New York Times, audiences were even more amazed by Ben’s kindness and ability after learning about his traumatic loss. Even after his death, it was Ben’s kindness that people remembered most.
Ben Watkins won a white apron with peach cobbler
Ben Watkins appeared on MasterChef Junior at age 11. During the premiere episode, he came out victorious with a white apron after wowing the judges with his peach cobbler, served with whipped cream and caramel sauce, per The New York Times.
Ben made it to the top 18 of the show before being sent home, but he made a mark on audiences. On the MasterChef Junior Instagram account, Ben was commemorated with the following caption: “Ben overcame so much in his life with a remarkably positive attitude. He was a tremendous role model for chefs of all ages and will be dearly missed.”
On GoFundMe, a page was set up for Ben called #Love4Ben Memorial Fund, which has a statement from his maternal grandmother, Donna Edwards, and uncle, Anthony Edwards. “Our Ben went home to be with his mother this afternoon after a year-and-a-half-long battle with Cancer,” the statement read. “After losing both of his parents in September 2017, we have marveled at Ben’s strength, courage and love for life. He never, ever complained.”
The family also shared that Ben was “so heartened” by the outpouring of love he received after news broke of his cancer diagnosis. Ben was clearly loved by so many people, but celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay was especially vocal about his grief after Ben’s passing.
Gordon Ramsay is 'heartbroken' about Ben's passing
Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, who was the host of MasterChef Junior, shared his grief on Instagram after news broke that Ben Watkins had passed away.
On Nov. 17, 2020, Ramsay wrote: “Ben you were an incredibly talented home cook and even stronger young man. Your young life had so many tough turns but you always persevered.” Ramsay added: “I adored our time cooking and laughing together on set. Heartbroken today losing my little mate, sending all my love to Ben Watkins’ family with this terrible loss.”
His comments were flooded with love from the MasterChef community. MasterChef Junior winner Logan Guleff wrote: “Oh Man, so so tragic! Retire that apron!” Celebrity chef Andre Rush commented: “This hurt to see and read… cook easy up there my young friend, and all blessings to his family.” The entire MasterChef Junior community had previously made a video for Ben, released on Aug. 18, 2020, offering support as Ben fought cancer, and the group consensus was obvious and clear: everyone loved Ben.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
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