In January 2017, Seven Stories Press publisher Dan Simon met Tim Barry, owner of Tim’s Books in Provincetown, Mass, at an art opening on New York City’s Lower East Side. The meet prompted Barry to approach Simon and his team at Seven Stories about books that were long out-of-print, but in his experience, in high demand. One title to float to the top was Howard Mitcham’s The Provincetown Cookbook, originally published in 1975 by Addison Wesley. In what Seven Stories publicist Ruth Weiner called a “wonderful twist of publishing and bookselling symbiosis,” the publisher will re-release the book on June 26, updated with a new introduction by Anthony Bourdain. The publication also sends Seven Stories into new territory as the publisher’s first-ever cookbook.
Mitcham, who died in 1996 at the age of 79, was a chef and raconteur born in Mississippi, but became a legend in Cape Cod’s Provincetown, “as much for his storytelling as for his impressive cooking skills,” said Weiner (who added that he was a "heroic" storyteller, despite losing his hearing at 16 due to spinal meningitis). In the book, Mitcham celebrates the seafood cuisine of the region—heavily influenced by Provincetown’s history as a port for Portuguese fishermen, and Mitcham’s own Southern upbringing—and delves into Cape Cod folklore.
Barry tracked down the author’s daughter to secure rights, and also reached out to Bourdain, who had worked as a chef in Providence during Mitcham’s heyday. While the two chefs weren’t close, Mitcham’s cookbook had a profound effect on Bourdain. “His love for Provincetown shines through every page of this book,” writes Bourdain in the introduction. “It’s a true classic, one of the most influential of my life.”
Mitcham, says Bourdain, embraced the humble, local ingredients, with classic recipes like Quahogs Casino, Striped Bass Steaks Veronique, and a preparation for Haddock Amandine that Bourdain says was “famous up and down the Cape.”
Seven Stories was drawn to the forty-year-old title in part because of the book’s retro feel, in both design and content—it features plain matte paper, and hand-drawn illustrations from Mitcham. Seven Stories stayed true to the original cover art, with what Weiner called a “1970s almost psychedelic treatment of a clamshell,” and just added mention of Bourdain’s intro and a few other tweaks. With the exception of the added editorial from Bourdain, the interior is untouched.
“[It] felt like a breath of fresh air in a world full of glossy, photo-heavy cookbooks,” said Weiner. “Nothing against modern cookbooks, I have a shelf full at home that I not only use, but rely on, but they’re so slick and play into one’s visual senses so fully that it’s easy to forget the simplicity of the story behind a particular recipe or the admiration the chef holds for the person or people who created the dish, or the work that allowed the food to travel to our table. This book serves the latter up in a big way.”
The publication coincides with what would be Mitcham’s 100th birthday, and Seven Stories has planned an apropos launch for the book. “We’ll have a clambake on the beach in Provincetown...with Tim’s Books,” said Weiner. “It goes without saying.”