I was just scrolling through the news on my phone procrastinating doing some work when I saw a photo of Ben Watkins. I didn’t really need to scroll any further to know what that meant. Ben, who competed in “MasterChef Junior” three years ago, had been battling an extremely rare type of cancer at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. It’s the kind of place where if you have any chance of surviving, they’re the ones who’ll make sure it happens.
He had been diagnosed with Angiomatoid Fibrous Histiocytoma. I mentioned above that it’s very rare–so rare that only one out of six people have been diagnosed with it.
I knew Ben and I knew his mother, Leila Edwards, who created lovely jewelry and who adored her son who was friends with my nephews, all of whom live in Miller Beach. My niece and her husband and family were friends with the Edwards-Watkins family.
As I’ve said before, I never met Ben’s father and Leila’s mother, Michael Watkins, but everyone I’ve ever talked to, described him as the nicest person. Which is what made what happened three years ago so baffling. He too was diagnosed with cancer and one morning took a gun and killed Leila and then himself. Ben was in the house but unharmed.
Ben went to live with his uncle and grandmother and the Miller Beach community raised a great deal of money to help with finances. As I mentioned he had competed on “MasterChef Junior” and had made it through several rounds, advancing each time but finally was sent home by Gordon Ramsay in a not very nice way. We were all aghast. How dare he. Our sweet Ben. Newspapers criticized the way Ramsay sent Ben packing. Ben was the type of kid who was totally likeable. When Ben was diagnosed with the cancer, Ramsay stepped up and donated $50,000 to his medical fund.
Ben loved to cook, he started helping out in the kitchen when he was three and he liked creating his own recipes though sometimes, when I’d asked him how to make one of the dishes, he couldn’t remember the exact amounts and would have to do it again. He was a kid who got good grades, helped out in his parents restaurant in Miller Beach, competed in spell bowl, math bowl, chess club or also fixed broken bikes for kids in need through the Ken Parr Build a Bike program in Miller Beach. He wanted to be an engineer when he grew up. But alas, already facing so much sorrow and pain in his life, had to face more in the hospital as the tumors grew and grew. His pain may be gone now, but that of those who knew and loved him, including that of his uncle, Anthony Edwards and his grandmother Donna Edwards who took over his care after his parents died. I can’t even begin to fathom the depths of their sorrow and anguish.
“We were praying for a different outcome,” Anthony Edwards told the Chicago Tribune shortly after his death which occurred earlier today. “But Ben’s lungs could no longer give him the air he needed to breathe. It’s been devastating.”
Gordon ramsay tweeted today, “We lost a Master of @MastrChefJrFOX 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.”
I have shared this recipe before, Ben made it up and he was so proud of it so I will share it one more time.
“Our Ben went home to be with his mother Monday afternoon after a year-and-a-half battle with cancer,” wrote the Edwards in a statement. “Ben was and will always be the strongest person we know.”
Amen to that.
Ben Watkins’ Chocolate Chip Cookie and Oreo Brownie Bars
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extracthttps://cad9106d0d6494498d2fa80cdc316a59.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
2 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
24 ounces chocolate chips
18 to 24 Double Stuf Oreos, crumbled
Mix butter with sugar until creamed. Add eggs and vanilla extract. In a separate bowl mix flour mixture and baking soda. Add to creamed butter. Fold in chocolate chips and spread evenly on the bottom of a greased 9×13-inch pan.
Spread crumbled Oreos evenly over the top of the chocolate chip cookie dough.
4 ounces unsweetened Baker’s chocolate
¾ cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
Place chocolate in microwave and melt. Melt butter, stir in chocolate and sugar. Stir in eggs one a time and vanilla. Add flour. Mix thoroughly. Spread evenly on top of chocolate chip cookie dough and Oreos.
Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes.