Augustus Paquet-Whall has never been happier.

“I’m living my dream job,” says the twenty-eight-year-old head chef at State Road Restaurant in West Tisbury. “And I’m cooking my dream food.”

Paquet-Whall, known behind the line in the State Road kitchen as Chef Gus, grew up on the Vineyard and graduated from the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School before moving to Chicago to pursue his culinary career. “I wanted to earn my chops in the big city, and I knew I wouldn’t know that [the Island] is where I wanted to live unless I experienced something different,” he says. “But deep down I always knew I would return.” After seeing an ad on Craigslist that State Road was hiring, he made his way back to the Vineyard and in August of last year became the new head chef.

Jocelyn Filley

While living in Chicago, Chef Gus learned the art of cooking traditional Spanish tapas and Latin cuisine, an influence he has infused into the new American cuisine for which State Road is known. The bold flavors are on full display in the Grilled Spanish Octopus, a small plates option that, he says, would make a good-sized appetizer but is also big enough to share with the whole table.

“I simply love cooking octopus,” says Chef Gus. To maximize the flavor of the mollusk, he poaches it in lemon juice, pickling spices, and garlic. From there he discards the outer membrane to get to the best part: the inside, which he cleans off and pan sears before slicing it. The poached octopus is then topped with a salad of frisée, upland cress, orange supremes, and castelvetrano escabeche (a tapenade-type garnish consisting of young Spanish olives not heavily brined, honey, sherry, vinegar, thyme, salt, and very nice Spanish olive oil). The dish is finished with saffron aioli.

“I always tell people to try something new,” says Chef Gus. He is certain that trying something different, like this octopus, will make you feel good and make you happy. Just like him.