11-Year-Old to Compete on 'MasterChef Junior' in the Wake of Parents' Death
Last September, Ben Watkins lost both of his parents on the same day when his father, Michael Watkins, shot and killed his mother, Leila Edwards, before taking his own life at their home in Gary, Indiana. Now, with the support of his family and community, the 11-year-old is pursuing his dream to become a chef, according to a profile in the (Northwest Indiana) Post-Tribune.
Before his parents’ tragic deaths, the aspiring restaurateur enjoyed helping his dad take orders and sell baked goods at his restaurant Big Ben’s Bodacious Barbeque & Deli. The fast-casual spot named after the 11-year-old was created “by a family to support their son’s love of cooking,” according to the business' Facebook page. The restaurant was forced to close in September.
In the last five months, extended family and members of Ben’s community have gathered “to see that this tragedy does not derail Ben from reaching his full potential and fulfilling his dreams,” the boy’s neighbor and attorney Trent A. McCain wrote on a GoFundMe page. The campaign has crowdsourced nearly $5,000 out of a $6,000 goal, and over $21,000 has been raised in total — all for a trust fund to benefit Ben’s health, education, maintenance, and support.
“We want Ben to able to continue his education in the culinary arts wherever he wants to in the world,” McCain added.
On March 2, Ben’s dreams will take another step closer to reality. The hopeful chef is being featured on a special two-hour premiere of Gordon Ramsey’s MasterChef Junior, in which he will compete with 39 other children between the ages of 8 and 13 for a $100,000 prize.
"We are so thrilled to have Ben on this season of MasterChef Junior, and although there have been some trials in his young life, he is really focused on his culinary dreams and time on the show," Fox spokeswoman Allie Hall told The Times of Northwest Indiana.
Fans interested in cheering on the kid cook can tune into FOX at 8 p.m. Eastern Time (7 p.m. in Northwest Indiana). Good luck, Ben! For more on generous and kind-hearted people helping others even when the odds are stacked against them, check out The Daily Meal’s most inspiring food stories of 2017.