What Provincetown meant to Anthony Bourdain
The TV host started his culinary career in the Cape Cod town in the 1970s.
Anthony Bourdain, the renowned celebrity chef, television host, and world traveler, was found dead in his hotel room in France on Friday morning at the age of 61.
Bourdain’s career spanned more than four decades and all seven continents. By his own account, his first brush with the restaurant world was in 1972 in Provincetown, where he landed a job as a dishwasher.
“I was sharing a house in Provincetown one summer with a bunch of friends from high school,” Bourdain told The Boston Globe Magazine in 2012. “I was not contributing to the rent, and everybody I was living with was working in seasonal jobs at restaurants either as cooks or floor staff. One night they just said, we need a dishwasher and it’s going to be you, since you are not contributing to the rent. So I got started as a dishwasher and fell in love with the whole business and the whole subculture.”
Bourdain spoke at length about his time in Provincetown during a 2014 Massachusetts episode of his CNN show, “Parts Unknown.”
“It was here, all the way out at the tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown, Massachusetts, where the pilgrims first landed,” Bourdain said. “And it was where I first landed. 1972, washed in a town with a headful of orange sunshine and a few friends. Provincetown, a wonderland of tolerance, longtime tradition of accepting artists, writers, the badly behaved, the gay, the different. It was paradise.
“The joy that can only come with an absolute certainty that you’re invincible, that none of the choices that you make will have any repercussions or any effect on your later life,” Bourdain continued. “Because we didn’t think about those things. I don’t even know what I thought I was going to be. At that point, I certainly didn’t think I was going to be a cook. I don’t know what I thought I was going to be. I was just, you know, hanging out in a beautiful place.”
Bourdain talked on the show about how he got hired for his first dishwashing job, at the now-closed Flagship Restaurant.
“I hadn’t been working for a while. I was a deadbeat,” Bourdain said. “I mean, I was, you know, scarfing off everybody else. And Nancy Poole comes home from work and says, ‘Our dishwasher didn’t show up today. You are our new dishwasher.’ And I said, ‘Oh, really?’ And the next day I put on the apron and I didn’t take it off for 30 years.”
What’s left of the former “Flagship Restaurant” (aka ‘Dreadnaught”)
Posted by Anthony Bourdain on Monday, April 14, 2014
In the episode, Bourdain reflected on the lives that those in the service industry led, with daily routines of hanging out on the beach until 2 or 3 p.m., working all night, and “drinking, getting high, [and] drilling out food.”
“The Flagship, it’s where my cooking career started,” Bourdain said. “Where I started washing dishes, where I started to have pretensions of culinary grandeur. It would seem like a good gig for anybody. Who else got to live like that during that time?”
In the episode, Bourdain stops by the Lobster Pot, a Provincetown seafood spot that’s still popular today.
“Many of the old places in P-town are gone,” Bourdain said. “But the Lobster Pot is still going strong, all these years later, and still has what I want and need. The essentials. My friends worked in the kitchen here, starting the tradition among my set that cooking work was noble toil.”
When reached for comment on Friday, the Lobster Pot’s Tim McNulty, who has owned the restaurant since 1979, said that Bourdain’s death was very sad “on a personal level.”
“He was a nice guy, very nice guy,” McNulty said. “He was a superstar, and came in here [to film “Parts Unknown”] and was just like a normal, regular guy. We thought it was very cool. On a personal level, I think it’s really sad.”
One of Bourdain’s companions during the episode was Spiritus Pizza owner John Yingling, who knew Bourdain when he lived in Provincetown in the early ’70s, and even let Bourdain sleep on top of a walk-up at the restaurant when he had nowhere else to go.
“We all did drugs, acted young and crazy, and Tony was — he was probably a little wilder than some and not as wild as others,” Yingling said in the episode. “But he was always the guy who I always liked.”
Yingling told The Boston Globe Friday morning that he was shocked by Bourdain’s death.
“He was really trying to connect food to people in a wonderful kind of way,” Yingling said. “He went around the world, trying to make people get along better. He was doing a good thing.”
On “Parts Unknown,” Bourdain reflected on both Spiritus Pizza and the disorienting nature of visiting Provincetown more than four decades after he started his career there.
“I cannot tell you how frequently I dream about Spiritus Pizza,” Bourdain said. “I’m walking down Commercial Street, and I’m sort of dimly aware that Spiritus has moved, and there’s a sense of dislocation and a loss as I stumble around this sort of Provincetown dreamscape of 40 years ago. I was still here and living in hope.”