TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) — Many at the Southern Ale House restaurant in Tuscaloosa are grieving the death of 17-year-old Fuller Goldsmith who worked there for seven years.
Goldsmith knew he wanted to be a chef by the time since he was 4 years old.
“Ever since then, it’s been a pretty cool journey,” Goldsmith told Tuscaloosa Magazine in 2017.
Goldsmith, whose culinary talent took him from his home kitchen in Tuscaloosa to Food Network’s “Chopped Junior,” died Tuesday after a long battle with leukemia, which had come back earlier this year after having been in remission for four years. Saturday would’ve been Goldsmith’s 18th birthday.
“He got tired and was ready to go,” said father Scott Goldsmith, adding that his son had taken a turn for the worse earlier this week.
Goldsmith was first diagnosed with leukemia when he was three, and the diagnosis meant he was in and out of hospitals for many years. In his own words, cooking was what got him out of bed.
“When I was sick, cooking was the only thing that got me up,” he told the magazine. “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.”
Alan Barr, interim head of Tuscaloosa Academy where Goldsmith went to school, said Fuller never let his disease get him down and that he was in love with life.
“He was just one of those people when they stepped in a room, he was a little brighter because he was in it,” Barr said.
Southern cuisine was a specialty of Goldsmith’s, and his regionally-inspired talent was on full display when he competed on “Chopped Junior,” ultimately winning in 2017. Dishes he cooked on the show include Southern favorites such as powdered sugar beignets, chicken tenders made with hush puppy batter and beer-battered catfish.
“I grew up all my life in the South,” Goldsmith told the magazine about his influences. “I’ve tried all different kinds of foods, and it’s just good to me.”
Scott Goldsmith said he never dreamed his son would be able to do all the things he was able to do in his 17 years.
“If he had the opportunity to go in a kitchen or work in a kitchen, that was something he truly loved,” he said. “He met a bunch of people and get an opportunity to do things most don’t get to do.”
Over the years, Goldsmith was not shy in taking his cooking talent out to the community. In addition to an appearance on “Top Chef Jr.” in 2017, he could often be seen in the kitchen of Southern Ale House in Tuscaloosa, cooking and serving food to customers. He also shared many of his dishes on his Instagram page.
“He knew just like a lot of chefs do that when you want to cook, your name is your food and he wanted to be remembered for the dishes he created and was a part of,” said Brett Garner, executive chef at Southern Ale House. “He put everything he had into it.”
Garner remembers first meeting Goldsmith when he was only 10 years old and wanting to help cook for a benefit dinner his family was hosting.
“I walked up to it thinking like anyone else would ‘What’s a 10-year-old going to come and say and do’,” Garner said. “Once he opened up and talked and we let him come back and cook, I was like ‘Oh man, I’ve got people three times older than him and he’s cutting vegetables better. He’s doing little things that people go to school and get trained for and he’s doing it at 10. He’s working harder at 10 than people who that’s their career.”
Before he died, Goldsmith had plans to continue his cooking full-time by going studying at the Culinary Institute of America in New York City and opening his own restaurant one day.
Barr said that despite his health issues, Goldsmith never wanted to be a burden to anyone, always approaching every day to the fullest.
“We were just richer for knowing him,” he explained.
Scott Goldsmith said that he fought leukemia until the very end. At 8 a.m. Wednesday, Goldsmith saw a reminder go off on his son’s phone that simply said “Live life to the fullest.”
“Even though he had issues and problems, he never let that deter him from doing what he loved to do, which was cooking and cooking for other people,” he said.
Goldsmith’s funeral will be held Friday at 11 a.m. at First Methodist Church in Tuscaloosa. Barr said Tuscaloosa Academy plans to honor Goldsmith’s memory during its football game this Friday with a balloon release.