I recently discovered that one of my favorite celebrities, chef and writer Anthony Bourdain, made his humble start at a life of culinary exploration in one of my favorite places on earth, Provincetown, Massachusetts.
It’s not exactly surprising that one of Bourdain’s first stops in a life of chasing new adventures was Ptown - the small artist’s community and Portuguese fishing village at the tip of Cape Cod. For a town that’s precariously perched on what is virtually America’s “land’s end,” Provincetown has attracted more than it’s share of enduring personalities over the years. Along with Bourdain, people like Tennessee Williams, Norman Mailer, Jackson Pollock, and Michael Cunningham spent formative years in Provincetown before going on to make their mark in theater, art, literature, and elsewhere.
What makes Bourdain’s story special, however, is that he wasn’t magnetized by the same atmosphere of openness and eccentricity that we’ve come to expect from such stories. Instead, Bourdain - a straight, rebellious 17-year-old at the time of his arrival in 1974 - was drawn by the hot, claustrophobic kitchens of Ptown’s local seafood resaurants. As a line cook pumping out local fare for the throngs of summer tourists, Bourdain learned structure, purpose, and pride in the hard and often thankless work of the restaurant industry’s “back-of-the-house” staff. He credits his kitchen crewmates, many of whom where hard-working Azorean (Portugal) and Jamaican immigrants, for setting his life on a better path.
I like the story of Bourdain’s Ptown experience because it reinforces the notion that Ptown is a haven for people of all walks to come, discover, and express their true selves, whatever that might be. One of the most remarkable things to discover about Provincetown is that it has so many layers. Cultures here are invisibly and seamlessly stacked on top of one another, sharing the same small spit of land and condensed into a year-round population of roughly 3,000 people.
It’s a testament to Provincetown that almost everyone who spends time here is compelled to take a stake in the identity of the town. It’s what keeps the place special. That said, it can be easy to forget that your Ptown isn’t the Ptown. I think we’d all do well to dig a little deeper and discover another layer.