Last week, I sneaked out of the office, walked down North Water street, tiptoed around the front porch of the Sydney hotel and knocked on the back kitchen door of l’étoile. There’s an intimidating sign on the door now, since Michael Brisson’s time is stretched. An appointment is required. As I stood there pondering my next move, I caught a glimpse of Michael on his motorcycle gliding past the privet hedge, turning into the gravel parking lot.

Honestly, Michael should really run the other way when he sees me. I once asked him to develop 12 recipes for a Thanksgiving menu in Fine Cooking magazine — quickly. Another time I asked him to perform miracles with strawberries and cream for an Edible Vineyard article.

Now here I was again at the back door. It could only mean one thing. But he didn’t run away when he saw me. Instead I got one of his famous bear hugs.

Then the man in perpetual motion actually sat down in a wicker chair on the porch. We talked of strawberries and softshell crabs, folding napkins and unplugging toilets, cookbooks and lunch menus, and about saying yes and saying no, in life. Not necessarily in that order.

Jeanna Shepard

Finally I asked him for a recipe. I thought then he might get up.

But he had to tell me about the saffron-horseradish cream sauce. And the seared salmon.

Wait, saffron-horseradish cream? “Stop right there,” I said.

Turns out this little flavor pairing was something he thought up on the fly one night and it really worked. To me, it was just an example of the kind of one-two punch Michael does to take his food up a notch — the kind of thing that can be transformative for home cooking. It’s the reason that Thanksgiving menu was probably the best one Fine Cooking ever published. And it’s one reason (of many) why Michael has opened the door to his fine dining restaurant for the 31st season in a row.

“Could you put that sauce with any fish?” I asked. Chefs are not always happy when you mess with things. “Sure,” he said. “Or you could even grill the salmon if you want.”

“Sold,” I was thinking to myself. Who doesn’t want a nice fish recipe with a great sauce for a holiday weekend?

Jeanna Shepard

Before I could finish my thought, Michael was on to explaining how he cuts his salmon in squares, how he folds the belly flap under, how he sears one side until it’s perfectly brown. How much he reduces the sauce. How he likes to serve the salmon with red quinoa and blistered tomatoes. Or a farro salad with sweet peas and pistachios. Or wilted greens. Honestly, the man moves and talks so fast that it is hard to keep up with him.

While he was waving to people on the street, greeting servers, checking the dripping gutters (all still from his seat on the porch), I made him promise he’d give me the recipe.

And then I asked him what anybody in the business, anybody out of the business, anybody on the Vineyard, anybody who loves to eat would want to know. What’s the secret to keeping a restaurant alive for 31 years?

“I always want to stay relevant,” he told me. “I don’t want to be that ‘old’ restaurant. I want to be a standard bearer — not ‘the’ standard bearer, but ‘a’ standard bearer, because I think our strength is our consistency. People come for the whole experience — the food, the service, the ambiance. Now the younger generations of my older regular customers are coming.”

Jeanna Shepard

He kept talking. I knew this was because there wasn’t just one reason. And also because I put him on the spot.

“I want to keep things fresh and contemporary. I’ll always have my soft-shelled crabs. But last year I put octopus on the menu,” he told me. (I checked this year’s menu and saw Grilled Spanish Octopus Fumed with Pernod, with Gigante White Beans, French Black Olives, Roasted Tomato and Melted Leeks. Damn. If you’re wondering if everything on l’étoile’s menu sounds this good then consider your question answered.)

“This year I’m really excited about the purple Okinawan sweet potatoes that I’m using in an incredible gnocchi dish with the wild harvest shiitakes from MV Mycological,” he said, pointing to an entrée on the bar menu that includes parmesan, pine nuts and black truffle.

I had trouble focusing after that; in my mind I was sitting at that bar eating that gnocchi dish.

But I knew there was more coming.

“We’re on Open Table now,” he explained. “We added the bar and the bar menu when we moved here. We put in a good POS system so that things happen more efficiently between the customer and the kitchen. We’re always updating; we just got new drapes.” New drapes!

And then he talked about the hard stuff.

“Some days I think it’s fear that drives me. I feel responsible for my staff making their share of the money during the season. And I’m the general manager in addition to being the chef and the owner, so it can be a bit overwhelming. But I have my friends, and I have my wife Nicole, and I realize, you know what? It’s not that big of a deal. Just a bit of seasonal insecurity, which we all have on this Island, making most of our money in two months time.”

Most of all he is happy, he told me.

“Susie, I love my life. I love living on the Vineyard, I feel secure here. I love living in Edgartown and having my business right in the heart of downtown Edgartown. I like the whole ecosystem of this Island. I love the ebb and the flow of Island life, the down time and the straight-out-work-your-butt-off-time. It’s a total effort/reward situation. I love my customers. I love my staff.”

“What’s next?” I asked him, as I walked out through the spotless kitchen, where three prep cooks were pureeing, sautéing and chopping, warm breeze blowing through the screen door, radio humming.

“I want to start serving lunch,” he said. “Wanna help with the menu?”

Recipe for seared salmon with mustard crust and saffron-horseradish cream sauce.