This 11-year-old will compete on ‘MasterChef Junior’ after tragically losing both parents

It’s undeniable that food can do a lot more than just fill up your belly when you’re feeling peckish. Not only can it help you live longer and feel better, but it can also bring a sense of community at times when it feels like there is none.

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.

Understandably, times were hard for a little while, but 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 a local newspaper. Take some time to listen to his inspiring story below.

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 the family “to support their son’s love of cooking,” according to the business’ Facebook page. After the tragedy, the restaurant was forced to close in September.

In the last five months, however, 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 collected nearly $5,000 out of a $6,000 goal, and over $21,000 – both in online and offline efforts – has been raised in total. The money will go towards a trust fund to benefit Ben’s health, education, maintenance, and support, McCain added. “We want Ben to able to continue his education in the culinary arts wherever he wants to in the world,” he said.

The most heartwarming comments on the GoFundMe Page read, “Good Luck, Ben! Wishing you all the best for your brilliant culinary career in the years to come!” and “May God Bless this Young Man-That he Overcomes all the tragedy of pain and sorrows in his Life and that He grows and Craft his artistry of being a Top Chef…I Hope to Dine in his Restaurant one Day Peace and Blessings”


Ben’s dreams were taken a step closer to reality when the hopeful chef featured on a special two-hour premiere of Gordon Ramsay’s MasterChef Junior, where him and 39 other children between the ages of 8 and 13 cook for a $100,000 prize.

A Fox spokeswoman, Allie Hall, told local news reporters, “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.”

Tune in to find out how he got on and see if you can help Ben or someone like him in the future.

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