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An 11-year-old boy precocious enough to cook in a barbecue restaurant, who tragically lost both his parents last year, will appear on Fox's "MasterChef Junior," which returns Friday.

Ben Watkins helped operate the Big Ben's Bodacious BBQ and Delicatessen in Gary's Miller neighborhood with his late parents, Leila Edwards and Mike Watkins, who died in an apparent murder-suicide Sept. 16.

He was chosen to appear on award-winning chef Gordon Ramsay's "MasterChef Junior," which will have a two-hour premiere from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday.

"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 said.

Now in its sixth season, the hit show is a culinary competition in which 40 kids between the ages of 8 and 13 get to show off their cooking abilities through a series of challenges. The celebrity panel of judges includes Ramsay, pastry chef Christina Tosi and restaurateur Joe Bastianich, who encourage and guide the kids to cook like professionals.

Guests such as Wolfgang Puck, Martha Stewart and the Swedish Chef from "The Muppets" have been known to pop in for appearances.

The winner is named MasterChef Junior and receives a $100,000 grand prize.

Miller residents have raised more than $21,000 through the #Love4Ben to help him be able to realize his potential after the tragedy. Organizer Trent McCain, a local attorney from Miller, plans to set up a trust fund that will go toward Ben's expenses, mainly education. He aspires to study engineering.

"He's wise beyond his years," McCain said. "He sees cooking as a safe backup. But who knows, if he's successful with this program it might change the trajectory of his life."

A viewing party is planned at 6 p.m. Friday at Miller Bakery Cafe, 555 S. Lake St.

"We all can't wait to see him on the show," McCain said. "He's a salt-of-the-earth young man. You just automatically fall in love with him."

After a fundraiser at Miller Bakery Cafe last fall, McCain has been collecting funds for Ben through a GoFundMe, Paypal and Zelle. Other barbecue restaurant operators in the area are planning a barbecue festival fundraiser in the spring.

To contribute to Ben's trust fund, visit, send a check with #Love4Ben in the memo section to McCain Law Offices, P.C., 5655 Broadway, Merrillville, IN 46410, or donate to Zelle or Paypal at Donations@McCain.Law with the note #Love4Ben.


Business reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.