A Mo. family made a special connection with Anthony Bourdain

Evan Pina-White (facing on left), 13, from Eureka and his mother Mary White (facing on right) sit with the rest of their family during the Rockwood School District's American Cancer Society Relay for Life survivor's dinner on Friday, June 1, 2012, in Fenton. Pictured from left to right in the foreground are White's other sons Bennett Pina-White, 8, Gabe Pina-White, 6, and her husband Luis Pina. (Johnny Andrews/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)
Caption
Evan Pina-White (facing on left), 13, from Eureka and his mother Mary White (facing on right) sit with the rest of their family during the Rockwood School District's American Cancer Society Relay for Life survivor's dinner on Friday, June 1, 2012, in Fenton. Pictured from left to right in the foreground are White's other sons Bennett Pina-White, 8, Gabe Pina-White, 6, and her husband Luis Pina. (Johnny Andrews/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

Credit: Johnny Andrews

Credit: Johnny Andrews

Anthony Bourdain wanted the Piña-White family of Eureka, Mo., to enjoy the best food they could as they cruised through Europe on a Make-A-Wish Foundation trip.

The celebrity chef and author knew the foundation didn’t provide for the food the family would eat off the ship, so he quietly wrote them a check with recommendations of restaurants to visit and what to enjoy.

Mary White doesn’t want to say how much Bourdain gave. “It was a lot, though,” she said. “One of those meals alone was about $650. We were eating in the best of the best places.”

The family mourned Bourdain’s death. He was found dead of an apparent suicide on the morning of June 8.

Evan Piña-White, now 19, forged a special connection with Bourdain as he went through treatments for leukemia starting in 2010. He was in middle school when he and his family saw Bourdain at the Fox Theatre that year.

Piña-White had been diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia just three months before. During a question-and-answer session, he asked Bourdain where he should go for the world’s best seafood once he recovered. Bourdain recommended Spain.

Two years later, the Make-A-Wish Foundation provided Evan and his parents, White and Luis Piña, and two younger brothers, Bennett and Gabe, with a cruise around Europe. They ate their way through the trip, with Piña-White tweeting pictures of seafood platters and restaurant facades as they went.

Piña-White and Bourdain stayed in touch through Twitter, the family said, but that communication tapered off as Evan got into high school. The family continued to watch Bourdain’s shows and read his books.

“There was the trip itself and the morale he provided me through those dark times,” Piña-White said. “It was sort of like an escapism he provided. I saw myself sitting there with him. We shared a bit of the same humor.”

He said he was left “flabbergasted” and “wordless” by news of Bourdain’s death.

Piña-White recently completed his freshman year at Washington University, where he has nearly a full ride as a biology major. He passed his five-year out-of-treatment mark in August.

White, now the orchestra director at Eureka High School, said her family learned other lessons from Bourdain.

“His generosity took us all by surprise,” she said. “The person you see on TV — he’s gruff and sarcastic. … It really makes you see the good that’s in people, even if they don’t want you to see it.”

“Tony lifted Evan up in a very, very dark time in his young life,” White said. “I just wish that someone could have done the same for him.”

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