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'Top Chef Junior' competitor Fuller Goldsmith has died at age 17

Fuller Goldsmith
Courtesy of Universal Kids
Fuller Goldsmith

Top Chef Junior competitor Fuller Goldsmith has died following a long battle with leukemia. He would've turned 18 years old on Saturday. His death was announced by Magical Elves, producers of the cooking show.

"We are devastated after hearing about the loss of our Top Chef Junior alum, Fuller Goldsmith. He was an incredible chef and the strongest kid we've ever met. From the minute he was introduced to us, we knew he would make an impact on everyone around him and be a positive force in cooking world. To his family, we give all our love as they mourn the loss of someone truly special," Magical Elves posted on Instagram.

In a statement, the NBCUniversal channel Universal Kids similarly paid tribute to Goldsmith's spirit: "Fuller was always happiest in the kitchen getting to do what he loved. His unforgettable personality and passion for cooking left a mark everywhere he went. Our deepest sympathy goes out to his family and friends."

Fuller Goldsmith with his family: (L-R) mother Melissa Goldsmith, Fuller, sister's fiancé Trey Hudson, sister Lele Goldsmith, and father Scott Goldsmith.
Stuart McNair / Courtesy of Scott and Melissa Goldsmith
Courtesy of Scott and Melissa Goldsmith
Fuller Goldsmith with his family: mother Melissa Goldsmith (from left); Fuller Goldsmith; his sister's fiancé, Trey Hudson; sister Lele Goldsmith; and father Scott Goldsmith.

Fuller Goldsmith grew up in Alabama. His passion for cooking began at age 4. In 2017, he told Tuscaloosa magazine it was the chicken wings and barbeque sauce his father would make for Crimson Tide football game tailgate parties that got him hooked. He soon was the main cook for his family.

At age 14, Goldsmith entered Food Network's Chopped Junior competition, cooking up such Southern specialties as powdered sugar beignets and beer-battered catfish. After winning the competition, he donated his prize money to Children's of Alabama hospital in Birmingham, where he spent years in and out of treatment.

Fuller Goldsmith
Melissa Goldsmith / courtesy of Scott and Melissa Goldsmith
courtesy of Scott and Melissa Goldsmith
Fuller Goldsmith

Goldsmith was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 3. His cancer returned for a fourth time in 2018.

"When I was sick, cooking was the only thing that got me up," he told Tuscaloosa. "If I was just laying down doing nothing, my feet and legs would hurt, but when I was moving around in the kitchen, I wouldn't be hurting as much."

Fuller Goldsmith died on Tuesday. His father, Scott Goldsmith, told the CBS affiliate in Tuscaloosa, "He got tired and was ready to go."

According to Lucy Bonhaus, Fuller Goldsmith's lifelong friend, a fund is being established in his memory to help a child attend culinary school, something Goldsmith was unable to do himself. "This was Fuller's dream," Bonhaus says. "He made jokes that he was graduating from the 'school of life,' and it's safe to say he aced the course. He even would leave daily reminders on his phone to live life to the fullest."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.