The Island has no shortage of restaurants, and behind each one, there’s a top-of-the-line chef. The Times decided to get to know these epicurean wonders and we are presenting our findings in an ongoing series.
You can’t miss it. During lunch, it’s a cool oasis. At night, it dazzles. And it’s right on the water. Atlantic Fish & Chop House overlooks the harbor in Edgartown with rooms inside and out that whisper summer comfort and fine cuisine. They major in steak and seafood, and executive chef Joe Monteiro aces both. Short and succinct in conversation, he’s long on creativity when it comes to his cuisine.
How did you come to be on the Island?
I got pursued by the owner of the Atlantic. He made me a job offer. I was between things. He flew me up here in 2010 and we talked. I cooked for him and I had the job.
How and when did you start cooking?
I started cooking with my mom in the kitchen when I was pretty little. We have a huge family and [there was] a lot of work in the kitchen. My dad cooked also. Both of them. One of my uncles owned a restaurant and I used to work with him when I was 13 or 14. I never really did anything, just helped him get the business started. I started washing dishes [professionally] at 17, then started cooking right after and never left.
I went to Bergen [Community College] in Ridgewood, New Jersey, for 22 months of hotel and restaurant management.
Have you ever had a major cooking disaster?
When I first started cooking, I was in charge of most of the station set-up in the restaurant and making all the soups and sauces. I asked one of my new dishwashers to go downstairs and get me flour. The flour bin was in the same room as the Fryolator cleaner. He brought up about five pounds of Fryolator cleaner instead of flour. I made soup and I put it into the cooler. The next morning I walked into the restaurant and the chef took me into the cooler. He said, “I want you to take a look at this.” I walked in there and the thing was bubbling. It looked like a volcano inside of a five-gallon bucket. I couldn’t figure it out for a good while until I really stopped and thought about it. I grabbed the dishwasher and went downstairs with him. I was like, “So where was the flour?” “Right there!” I was like, “Noooo.”
It put me back in the weeds, because I had to make one soup for that day and another for the following day.
Is there a dish or meal you prepared that was part of a very special occasion?
We did a golf tournament in California for a lot of NFL stars. A lot of Hall of Famers, if you will. I golfed with those guys. It was a lot of fun.
What’s the best single bite you ate in the last week?
I don’t remember, to be honest with you. Everything I ate in the past week was pretty good.
Favorite dish on your menu?
My dishes are like kids. I treat them all the same. I love them all equally. But, probably one of our new dishes. We’re increasing our new menu by about 20 percent. A lot of raw, a lot of cooked, a lot of stuff that people on the Island are really not doing. We like to innovate and go to another level.
What do you cook for a romantic evening with your girlfriend?
You need to ask her. She loves food even more than I do. To please her is fairly easy. We’ve been cooking a lot of different stuff. It’s usually me cooking. She sits on the counter and we share wine together. I cook, I make her taste. We keep laughing.
What are your top five indispensable ingredients?
Salt, salt, salt, and salt, and a little more salt. I’m a firm believer that salt brings up the flavor in everything. Without salt everything is just bland. I don’t believe in people seasoning the food for me. If you come to my restaurant and season the food, it tells me that I’m not doing my job. So, I push my people to season everything we do to the limit. Just to the edge where it’s just perfect. Some people seem to think it’s over the edge, but 9.9 times out of 10, I’m right on the money.
Your favorite kitchen tool?
My pencil — which is always behind my ear. I am a pencil freak. Nine times out of ten, if you walk into my restaurant, I will have my pencil behind my ear. All my notes, if I need to mark off tickets, everything is done with a pencil.
Other than that, I think I use about every piece of equipment equally.
Using local Vineyard produce, fish, game, etc., describe the perfect M.V. feast.
Maybe different kinds of baked oysters with different stuffs. I cook the way my mood is usually. If I’m very hyper you can tell. My food is very aggressive. If I’m mellow, my food is kind of subtle. If I’m frustrated, sometimes it’s darker than normal. For the most part, my food is very happy.
What is your idea of a perfect day off on Martha’s Vineyard?
I don’t have a lot of those. Sometimes a walk on [my girlfriend’s] private beach. I spend as much time with her as I can.
If it could be anywhere in the world, where would you open your second restaurant?
Maybe Portugal. I’m part Portuguese. [There’s a] lot of seafood influence. A lot of water and stuff like that.
What would you be if you weren’t a chef?
I would probably be a car junkie. I love cars. I would probably be a racecar driver or something like that.