Austin’s Top Chef
Last year, Paul Qui rocketed into culinary fame after winning Top Chef Season 9, followed by a James Beard award for Best Chef: Southwest. The young, Filipino-born Austinite honed his skills at Uchi for eight years under chef/owner Tyson Cole, killed it as executive chef of Uchiko and is now at the helm of East Side King‘s four kitchens serving Asian-inspired street food. But these days, all eyes are on Paul’s highly-anticipated eponymous restaurant, Qui, slated to open in May. Paul shares details about the new restaurant and his recipe for Tori Meshi (Thai-style chicken karaage with liberty rice).
AndrewZimmern.com: What’s the concept at your new restaurant, Qui? Was it difficult to narrow down your focus?
Paul Qui: The concept is a seasonal, small menu restaurant, serving only the best ingredients I can procure. I think that it’s been more difficult defining my vision than narrowing my focus. I don’t want to be pigeon holed into a single type of cuisine, but rather be defined by the guests experience.
AZ.com: We hear you’ll have a tasting room with limited reservations, as well as a larger dining room. What will be the major difference between the two?
PQ: The larger dining room will be walk-in only and the tasting room will be based on a ticketing system. The food will be different as well, in the larger dining room the plate formats will be a little larger and intended for sharing, while the tasting room will consist of bites and composed plates. I created a restaurant that can satisfy my passion and interest in cooking, a place where I can tweezer all my food or baste a big hunk of meat on a cast-iron skillet.
AZ.com: Who’s on the new team at Qui? What do you look for when you’re hiring?
PQ: Some of my team is comprised of people who have worked with me before and understand my vision. The larger part of my team have come from all over the United States, people who’ve moved to Austin to work at Qui. I look for passion above all else, as well as work ethic, and then experience.
AZ.com: What have the challenges been transitioning from a chef to full-on restaurateur?
PQ: I’m driven by passion and curiosity and it’s been very difficult for me to say ‘no’ to things that peak my interest, whether it be a plate, a new wine glass, ingredient or charity. I have a bad habit of saying yes, but thankfully, I’ve surrounded myself with people that know how to stand up to me.
AZ.com: 2012 was a big year for you, winning Top Chef and a Beard award. What’s that experience been like?
PQ: It’s been an amazing time. I’ve been able to see the world and experience some of the best restaurants in the world.
AZ.com: Any more expansion plans for your food truck empire?
PQ: Not at the moment. Right now is the time for me to focus on Qui and to refine ESK.
AZ.com: You can’t talk about great food cities without mentioning Austin. Why do you think Austin’s food scene is so fantastic?
PQ: It’s fantastic because it’s brave. Austin has a young energy and a strong sense of wanting more for the city.
AZ.com: Fill in the blank: A trip to Austin is not complete without ______.
PQ: Seeing live music.
AZ.com: What’s in your fridge?
PQ: Bubbles, cheese, pickles and random experiments from menu testing for Qui.
Check out Paul’s recipe for Tori Meshi.
Paul Qui is the recipient of the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Southwest 2012, and the winner of Top Chef Season 9. Born in Manila, Philippines and trained in classic French and Japanese cuisine, Paul takes a modernist approach towards food, where there are no boundaries. Starting as a stage, Paul worked his way up the ranks of Uchi to Chef de Cuisine and eventually Executive Chef at Uchiko. While training under Uchi Chef and Owner Tyson Cole, Paul learned to adapt traditional Japanese dishes with an eye towards local flavor, all while incorporating influences from South East Asian and European cuisine. Paul is currently the chef/owner of his flagship restaurant, qui, which opens in Spring 2013. He is also the co-founder and chef/owner of East Side King, a group of Asian-inspired street food trailers and restaurants in Austin, Texas.