A contestant from the popular cooking competition series “MasterChef Junior” has died at the age of 14 after a battle with an extremely rare form of cancer.
The grandmother and uncle of Ben Watkins announced in a statement on GoFundMe that the young chef died at the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago on Monday.
“Shortly after his 13th birthday, Ben was diagnosed with a rare illness called Angiomatoid Fibrous Histiocytoma, a soft tissue tumor usually in children and young adults,” the statement on Watkin’s fundraiser reads.
“Young Ben is one of only six people in the entire world diagnosed with this illness,” it continues.
Ben was just 11 when he appeared on the sixth season of the hit culinary competition series on Fox. He ended up in the top 18 of the 24 contestants who competed the show and was a “fan favorite,” his family said.
The fundraiser for Ben was initially created in 2017 when he lost both parents to a murder-suicide. The donated funds were to go toward the boy’s education. The page called, #Love4Ben, has since generated nearly $400,000.
“After losing both of his parents in September 2017, we have marveled at Ben’s strength, courage, and love for life,” his family said.
“He never, ever complained. Ben was and will always be the strongest person we know. When Ben’s rare illness was shared with the world, he was so heartened by the outpouring of love he received from every corner of the globe–especially here in his hometown of Gary, Indiana,” it continues.
Ben grew up in Indiana and opened a family restaurant, Big Ben’s Bodacious BBQ and Delicatessen, with his late parents Leila Edwards and Mike Watkins in the Miller Community of Gary. The restaurant closed the month his parents died, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“MasterChef Junior” is an American cooking program that has premiered on Fox since September 2013. It is based on the format of the British series “Junior MasterChef.”
Gordon Ramsay, who appeared as a judge for young catering students on the series, sent his condolences and prayers on Twitter after learning about Ben’s passing.
We lost a Master of the @MasterChefJrFOX kitchen today. 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. Sending all the love to Ben Watkins’ family with this terrible loss Gx pic.twitter.com/RX81hP7lbw
— Gordon Ramsay (@GordonRamsay) November 17, 2020
“We lost a Master of the @MasterChefJrFOX kitchen today,” the famous British chef, restaurateur, and television personality wrote on Twitter, adding a picture of the young chef.
“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. Sending all the love to Ben Watkins’ family with this terrible loss Gx,” Ramsay said.