It is high summer on the Vineyard and nowhere more than at l’étoile restaurant in Edgartown, where customers are filling up the dining rooms indoors and out and sitting shoulder to shoulder at the bar late into the night.
And the food being prepared for them is a work of art. Well, actually it’s the work of an artist.
Michael Rottman (known affectionately around the Island as Mikey) has been the sous chef at l’étoile for the past two seasons. If you have already had the lobster mac and cheese there, then you know he is a great cook but what you might not know is that he is an emerging painter as well. This past year he sold 20 of his paintings from his studio above Circuit avenue in Oak Bluffs, which is open by appointment.
“Art is in his heart and it shines through in everything that he does, including the food he cooks,” said l’étoile owner and chef Michael Brisson. “My big fear is that I will loose Mikey as a chef because he will become more in demand as an artist.”
Mr. Rottman’s artwork is diverse. For years he worked in an abstract medium, painting faces and expressions that were wildly energetic and colorful. Then he began to paint landscapes inspired, naturally, by the Vineyard — a dinghy on a beach, Tashmoo Cove with the light just right
Of his own work, he said: “I think food is food. Straightforward. Salt. This whole thing with chefs being rock stars is silly. Cooking is a craft and the greatest craftsmen go unrecognized. Some of the greatest artists are dead before they sell a painting.”
What Vineyard artists influence his work? “I really look up to Ray Ellis a lot and the work of Allen Whiting,” he said, adding: “I feel a lot of support from the artists here — I was able to reach out to Allen Whiting and he said any time I want to talk to him about art don’t hesitate to call.”
He would some day like to support himself full-time as a painter, but in the meantime he is happy to be cooking. And so is chef Brisson, “Mikey helps make my food more expressive.” He said, “I am lucky to have him.”
And as the price of paintings by Mr. Rottman keep rising, it’s good to know that his dishes at l’étoile will stay relatively the same. You can get the lobster mac and cheese with black truffles and crispy bacon for $21.