As memories of Anthony Bourdain spread online in the wake of his death, one touching story reveals how the late celebrity chef and television personality secretly helped an 11-year-old child fighting cancer see his dreams fulfilled.
Miami Indulge editor-in-chief Evan Benn shared details of the inspiring tale on Twitter Friday, hours after news surfaced that Bourdain died of apparent suicide at the age of 61.
It all began back in 2010, when Benn was covering a book tour stop of Bourdain’s at Missiouri’s Fox Theatre for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. That’s where Bourdain first met Evan Piña-White, who CNN reports was a middle schooler diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. Piña-White became a superfan of the culinary star while watching his Travel Channel show Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations during chemotherapy treatments.
“That was how Evan filled his time at the hospital,” Brian Miller, of Make-A-Wish Missouri, told the network. “He fell in love with Anthony Bourdain and everything about his show.”
At the book signing, Piña-White met his idol and asked Bourdain where he should go eat once he was officially in remission, Benn wrote on Twitter. “Bourdain didn’t hesitate: Spain,” he said.
Days later, Benn got a call from Bourdain’s assistant. The chef “wanted to help send this kid to Spain and make it the time of his life,” Benn explained on Twitter.
There was one caveat: Bourdain didn’t want Piña-White or his family to know that he was involved.
And so, with Make-A-Wish Missouri’s aid, Piña-White was able to travel to Barcelona in 2012. There, Bourdain “set the kid up at the best restaurants and helped make the trip incredible,” Benn wrote.
“He was special,” the journalist said of Bourdain.
Speaking to Benn back then, Piña-White said he was only able to push through his treatment because of Bourdain.
“He may not realize it, but he inspires a lot of people to live life a little more, to get off the couch and do something,” Evan told the Post-Dispatch before heading out with his parents and two younger brothers on the cruise to Spain, which also stopped in Italy and France. “He’s someone I can look up to.”
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Bourdain was found unresponsive in his hotel room in France by close friend and French chef Eric Ripert, CNN told PEOPLE. Both were filming an upcoming episode of Bourdain’s CNN series Parts Unknown.
Also on Friday, Piña-White’s mom Mary White spoke to Miller, who told CNN that her son, now in college, is “doing fantastic” and is in university “on a full scholarship.”
She said in a statement Miller provided to CNN that the family was saddened to hear of Bourdain’s passing.
“Anthony’s relationship with Evan is a true revelation of his character,” White said. “His friendship with Evan was amazing. He was a very good man and a very good friend. His generosity and spirit will truly be missed.”
She added that the family still has the book Bourdain autographed for her son all those years ago.