Ben Watkins, the 14-year-old “MasterChef Junior” alum and fan favorite, died Monday following a year-and-a-half battle with cancer.
Watkins, who lost both parents in 2017, had been diagnosed with the rare illness angiomatoid fibrous histiocytoma shortly after his 13th birthday.
“Our Ben went home to be with his mother Monday afternoon,” said statement from his grandmother Donna Edwards and uncle Anthony Edwards posted on the #Love4Ben GoFundMe fundraising page, stated. “We have marveled at Ben’s strength, courage and love for life. He never ever complained. Ben was and always will be the strongest person we know.”
Before his parents died in what investigators called a murder-suicide, Watkins helped out at his family’s restaurant that had been named after him — Big Ben’s Bodacious Barbecue, Bakery & Deli.
He was 11 when he appeared on the sixth season of the hit culinary competition, becoming a fan favorite and making it to the final 18. Watkins listed his signature dish as fried chicken with mashed potatoes.
The family thanked the “outpouring of love from every corner of the globe” for Watkins that followed the announcement of his cancer diagnosis, especially in his hometown of Gary, Indiana.
“Ben suffered more than his share in his fourteen years on Earth,” the statement said. “But we take solace in that his suffering is finally over and that, in the end, Ben knew he was loved by so many.”
“MasterChef Junior” host Gordon Ramsay and other contestants posted an inspirational video for Watkins while he was undergoing treatment in August.
Ramsay posted an Instagram tribute Tuesday saying he was “heartbroken” over “this terrible loss.”
“We lost a Master of the @masterchefjunior 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,” Ramsay wrote. “I adored our time cooking and laughing together on set.”
“We mourn the passing of Ben Watkins, a beloved member of the ‘MasterChef Junior’ family,” a statement from show creator EndemolShine North America said. “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.”