MasterChef Junior star Ben Watkins has died aged 14 from a rare form of cancer, his family has confirmed. The young chef, who appeared on the US version of the popular cooking show in 2018, died on Monday.
TV chef Gordon Ramsay, one of the show’s judges, described Ben as “an incredibly talented home cook and even stronger young man”.
Ben came from tragic circumstances, having lost his mother and father in a murder-suicide three years ago.
His grandmother Donna Edwards and his uncle Anthony Edwards said in a statement, via his GoFundMe page: “Our Ben went home to be with his mother this afternoon after a year-and-a-half-long battle with cancer.
“Ben suffered more than his share in his 14 years on this Earth, but we take solace in that his suffering is finally over and in that, in the end, Ben knew he was loved by so many.”
Ben Watkins came from just outside of Chicago and honed his fledgling culinary skills by working at his father Michael’s barbecue restaurant.
Ben would operate the cash register and take orders, and also sold his own homemade cookies, brownies, cinnamon rolls and banana bread.
He credited his baking skills to mother, commenting: “My mom taught me everything she knew. Or I just picked it up by watching her.”
However, in 2017, Ben’s father shot and killed Ben’s mother, Leila Edwards, before killing himself.
Ben’s grandmother and uncle then became his legal guardians.
The following year, aged 11, he featured on the Fox show MasterChef Junior, where his eye for a dessert combined with his tragic back story made him a viewers’ favourite.
Watkins’ first appearance saw him compete as one of 40 contestants, aged between nine and 13, for 24 spots on the show and a chance to win the $100,000 (£75,224) prize.
Gordon Ramsay described Watkins as “a talented home cook and even stronger young man”.
He bagged the final white apron of the night, by impressing the judges with a peach cobbler with whipped cream and caramel sauce.
He ultimately placed in the top 18 on the show.
Soon after his 13th birthday though, the newfound star was diagnosed with angiomatoid fibrous histiocytoma – a rare soft tissue tumour.
In July this year, he underwent chemotherapy treatment for tumours in his lung, spine and shoulder.
Following his death, a statement on the MasterChef Instagram page said Watkins had a “remarkably positive attitude” and was a “tremendous role model for chefs of all ages”.