Ben Watkins Has Passed Away and We All Grieve at Our Loss.

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.

Photo by Leila Edwards.

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.

Ben Watkins in his home kitchen making his special Oreo recipe. Photos by Leila Edwards, Ben’s mother.

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.

Photo by Leila Edwards.

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.

Ben Watkins. Photo by Leila Edwards.

“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.”

Photo by Leila Edwards.


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

Cookie Layer:

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

¾ cup sugar

¾ cup brown sugar

2 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

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.

Brownie Layer:

4 ounces unsweetened Baker’s chocolate

¾ cup butter

2 cups sugar

3 eggs

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.

Cancer-Fighting Kitchen: Second Edition: Nourishing, Big-Flavor Recipes for Cancer Treatment and Recovery

Photographs copyright © 2009, 2017 by Leo Gong

When Rebecca Katz’s Cancer-Fighting Kitchen: Second Edition: Nourishing, Big-Flavor Recipes for Cancer Treatment and Recovery, a finalist in the Health & Special Diet category of the IACP Awards, came out a decade ago. the idea of cookbooks geared towards specific illnesses was still relatively new. But the success of that book as well as Katz’s One Bite at a Time: Nourishing Recipes for Cancer Survivors and Their Friends, both of which provide nurturing recipes designed to help those who are undergoing treatment and dealing with side effects as well as introduce foods that studies have shown might help in preventing the disease, was so great, that a second edition came out a little over a year ago.

Curried Chicken Salad


1 1⁄2 pounds roasted organic chicken

1 Granny Smith apple, diced into 1⁄4-inch pieces

1⁄4 cup raisins or currants

1⁄4 cup minced scallions, green part only

2 stalks celery, diced small

1⁄2 cup organic plain Greek-style yogurt

1⁄4 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

1 tablespoon curry powder

1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger

1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt

6 butter lettuce leaves, washed and dried

1⁄4 cup slivered toasted almonds, for garnish

1⁄4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish (optional)

Chop the chicken into 1⁄2-inch pieces and put them in a bowl. Stir in the apple, raisins, scallions, and celery. Separately, whisk together the yogurt, mayonnaise, lime juice, curry powder, ginger, and salt. Add the yogurt mixture to the chicken and stir gently until thoroughly combined. Serve atop the lettuce leaves, garnished with the almonds and cilantro, if desired.

COOK’S NOTE: Save time by using store-bought organic roast chicken.

STORAGE: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days.

PER SERVING: Calories: 300; Total Fat: 11.3 g (3.1 g saturated, 3.8 g monounsaturated); Carbohydrates: 15 g; Protein: 34 g; Fiber: 2 g; Sodium: 375 mg

Orange Pistachio Quinoa

Quinoa is its own little ecosystem, containing all of the essential amino acids that we must obtain through the diet. Put another way, quinoa brings some good nutrients to the table that the body needs to begin repairing itself. Its mild taste makes it a perfect backdrop for this nicely layered crunchy/chewy portable dish, in which olive oil, citrus, vitamin-rich pistachios, and raisins dance delightfully on the taste buds, and herbs (mint, cumin, and coriander) provide a huge hit of taste and anticancer nutrients.


PREP TIME: 15 minutes

COOK TIME: 15 minutes

1⁄2 cup raw pistachios

1 1⁄2 cups quinoa

2 1⁄2 cups Magic Mineral Broth (page 49) or water

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon cumin

1⁄2 teaspoon coriander

1⁄8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1⁄2 cup chopped fresh mint

2 scallions, both green and white parts, finely chopped

1⁄8 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

Zest of 1 orange

1 1⁄2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1⁄2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1⁄2 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Spread the pistachios in an even layer on a sheet pan and bake for 7 to 10 minutes, until aromatic and slightly browned. Let cool.

Place the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse well under cold running water to remove all the resin.

In a pot, bring the broth and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil. Add the quinoa and cover. Decrease the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Transfer from the heat and fluff with a fork. Spread mixture out on a sheet pan and “rake” with a fork occasionally until cooled.

Transfer the quinoa from the sheet pan to a large bowl. Stir in the cumin, coriander, salt, and pepper. Add the mint, scallions, orange juice, orange zest, olive oil, lemon juice, toasted pistachios, and raisins. Mix well and taste; you may need a pinch of salt, a squeeze of lemon, or a dash of olive oil.

VARIATION: Make this a meal in a bowl by adding 1 cup of cooked chickpeas when you stir everything together.

COOK’S NOTES: Rinse, rinse, and rinse again! Quinoa is naturally coated with a bitter-tasting resin. To get rid of the resin, put the grain in a bowl of cool water, swish it around with your hand, then drain it in a fine-mesh sieve.

Quinoa is gluten free, which makes sense when you consider that botanically, it isn’t a grain at all; it’s more closely related to beets.

STORAGE: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4 days.

PER SERVING: Calories: 265; Total Fat: 10.3 g (1.3 g saturated, 5.9 g monounsaturated); Carbohydrates: 40 g; Protein: 7 g; Fiber: 6 g; Sodium: 435 mg

Photographs copyright © 2009, 2017by Leo Gong

Basil Lemon Drizzle

This is the little black dress of condiments—appropriate in almost any situation. What it really comes down to is mixing lemon zest, basil, and lemon juice, and—zingo!—you have a condiment that brightens and brings out the flavor in anything you put it on top of—veggies, chicken, fish, whatever. An added bonus is the blast of cancer-fighting properties, especially basil’s anti-inflammatory agents and lemon’s antioxidant phytochemicals.

MAKES: 1⁄2 cup

PREP TIME: 5 minutes

COOK TIME: Not applicable

1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon maple syrup (optional)

1⁄4 teaspoon sea salt

Put all of the ingredients in a food processor and process until well blended.

GOES WITH: Italian White Bean Soup (page 52), Minestrone (page 57), Cooling Cucumber Avocado Soup (page 62), Roasted Red Roma Tomato Soup (page 69), Creamy Broccoli and Potato Soup (page 71), Basil Broccoli (page 75), Easy Eggs in a Cup (page 100), Nana’s Egg Salad (page 102), Tuscan Farro and Bean Salad (page 111), Lemon Mustard Salmon Salad (page 115), Mediterranean Lentil Salad (page 144), Simple Tuscan Farro (page 147), and, as you might guess from this list, myriad other savory dishes.

VARIATION: For a richer drizzle that’s more like pesto, add 1⁄4 cup pecans or walnuts when you process the ingredients.

STORAGE: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 7 to 10 days or in the freezer for 2 months.

PER SERVING: 2 tablespoons—Calories: 125; Total Fat: 14.1 g (2 g saturated, 10 g monounsaturated); Carbohydrates: 1 g; Protein: 0 g; Fiber: 0 g; Sodium: 150 mg

CREDIT:Reprinted with permission from The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen 2nd Edition, copyright by Rebecca Katz with Mat Edelson,2016. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.