Alabama teen celebrity chef dies at 17 after long battle with cancer

Published 8:40 pm Friday, October 8, 2021

Fuller Goldsmith knew his life’s arc well before he even began school. During hours waiting out chemotherapy treatments at Children’s of Alabama hospital, the Tuscaloosa native grew bored watching Disney Channel and cartoons, and turned instead to Food Network shows, thus setting his path.

The young chef won the “Chopped Junior” competition, competed on “Top Chef Jr.,” and got to meet hero Guy Fieri and other celebrities. He was written about in People, Entertainment Weekly and other publications. Still, Fuller was most fully at home in a kitchen.

“I knew I wanted to cook for the rest of my life before I went (to TV),” he said, in a 2017 interview with The Tuscaloosa News, during his run on the show “Top Chef Jr.”

“I just like to cook. Simple as that.”

Though he’d fought back acute lymphoblastic leukemia three times since the age of 3, Fuller succumbed to the disease Tuesday, days short of his 18th birthday.

Fuller was found to be suffering another tumor late last winter, and had been undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments, but wasn’t responding as he had in the past.

“We knew what the outcome was going to be, but we definitely didn’t think it was going to be yesterday,” his father, Scott Goldsmith, said Wednesday. “Monday he was up and moving about, building Legos, and watching all the football games. Yesterday morning he was running a fever, and struggling to breathe.

“He was ready to go. He went peacefully in his sleep, no pain, no struggle, laying in his bed, and went to Heaven.”

Family friend Cal Holt posted about Fuller’s passing Tuesday. His son Justin Holt owns and operates Southern Ale House, where Goldsmith worked as an assistant to executive chef Brett Garner:

The post read in part: “We will miss his presence, his smile, his laugh, his banter back and forth with Brett, and his grit as fought the aches and pains of a terrible disease. He will be missed but forever remembered. His spirit will remain in SAH for the remainder of time. To his family our love and compassion with a huge thank you for sharing Fuller with all of us. He made all of us better people.”

A Tuscaloosa Academy student when health allowed, Fuller continued to watch a myriad of cooking shows, as well as diving into books, and picking brains, digging into his life’s chief passion. Fuller cooked as grandmothers used to do, Scott Goldsmith said, never writing things down, just sipping and trying and measuring to suit himself, his own taste.

“He loved to cook for people, but he didn’t necessarily care about eating his stuff,” his father said. “But he got enjoyment out of seeing his food bringing people happiness.

“There would be plenty of times he’d make this meal, and then he’d go ‘I’m not going to eat that; go to Taco Casa and get me something,’” Goldsmith said, laughing.

In recent months the Goldsmiths traveled as much and often as possible, including a jaunt to Disney World, where the executive chef at EPCOT came to greet them, and prepared the family a special dessert: a cake made to look like a chef’s coat, with Fuller’s name inscribed.

“Everywhere we went,” his father said, “restaurants and Legos, that’s all he wanted to do.”

Fuller had built with the plastic bricks when waiting out treatments, as a child, but had put them aside in more recent years. After the return of the cancer, he went back to constructing elaborate Legos castles, villages, cars and trucks.

“He could put something together in no time at all,” said Carrie Bregar, who got to know him through mutual interest in the Southern Foodways Alliance, where Fuller was the youngest member.

“He wasn’t a man of many words, but he delivered a message,” she said. “You just wanted to help him and support him, support his craft.”