Fil-Am Paul Qui wins Top ChefBy Momar G. Visaya
After nine seasons of the highly-famous Bravo hit series Top Chef, a Filipino-American chef ended up on the top of the heap, winning the title.
Paul Qui, executive chef at Uchiko Restaurant in Austin, Texas bested 28 other chefs in his quest to become Top Chef, going toe to toe against fellow finalist Chicago chef Sarah Gruenberg in the finale at the Black & Blue restaurant in Vancouver.
“I am top chef! I am extremely happy to see my mom and dad and Deana being there and everybody I met throughout this journey,” he said.
“Seeing my dad cry makes me say that he is really proud of me,” an emotional Paul -added after host Padma Lakshmi declared him as the winner. “It has been a while since I saw him be proud of me like that.”
Many chefs before him have also gone through the reality show route— through the various food shows on Bravo and Food Network—either to pursue other careers in the food and entertainment business or, to gain more fame, and eventually pursue other careers in the food industry.
Some Filipino-American chefs have become chef-testants (chef contestants) of Top Chef, which pits chefs against each other to see how well they fare in fierce culinary competition. They are judged by a panel of professional chefs and other notables from the food and wine industry with one or more contestants eliminated in each episode.
Among the Filipino-Americans who competed in the previous seasons of the show, the closest ever that a chef came to winning the title was in the second season of Top Chef: Just Desserts, where pastry chef Sally Camacho came in second.
The alumni of Top Chef with Filipino lineage include Dale Talde (Season 8: All-Stars and Season 4: Chicago), Leah Cohen and Eugene Villatora (Season 5: New York) and Josie Smith-Malave (Season 2: Los Angeles).
And now on its ninth season, Top Chef has produced Filipino-American winner.
For fans who are wondering about his next move, Paul said he’s going back to Austin.
“I’d still be cooking, and doing what I do best,” he remarked.
Qui, who also runs several Asian street food trailers in Texas called East Side King, was named a semifinalist for the James Beard Best Chef Southwest Award, an honor his mentor Tyson Cole won last year.
This season is the show’s biggest ever, gathering 29 chefs initially and whittling the number week after week.
For their final challenge, the chefs were asked to lead their own restaurant and create a four course tasting menu for a hundred people.
For his first course, Paul prepared Chawanmushi, which was steamed egg custard, prawns and pea shoots. He said he wanted to set the mood by seeing something that was “warm and comforting.”
“I was really blown away by it,” remarked judge Gail Simmons, “it was so silky smooth it was like glass, and the spot prawn was quivering, which was exactly how you wanted it to be.”
For his second course, Paul prepared Grilled Sea Bass with Clam Dashi, Pickled Radishes and Mushrooms.
Guest judge, chef Hugh Acheson said, “You nailed the dish. It was great. Everything melded really well, the earthiness of the mushroom was great, the dashi was beautifully clear. It was a stellar dish.”
The other guest judge, restaurateur and chef Emeril Lagasse agreed and called this dish “brilliant”.
Paul’s third course was Congee with Scrambled Eggs, Uni and Kale and for dessert, he served Coconut Ice Cream with Puffed Wild Rice, Mangosteen and Thai Chili Foam.
Collichio called Paul’s dessert as his favorite course for the night.
Road to Top Chef
Paul, throughout the season, impressed the judges with the dishes he served, and won two Quickfire Challenges and six out of the 12 Elimination Challenges. Some of his wins had corresponding cash prizes and in one of his wins, he won a brand-new Toyota Prius and a trip for two to Costa Rica.
“It feels really good to win the challenges and they definitely boosted my confidence. I just need to keep my eye on the prize and do the best that I can,” Paul told the Asian Journal in an interview last January.
Top Chef was not on his plan when he decided to draw his career path. Now, the accidental reality show cheftestant is making the most out of it.
“All I know is I love being in the kitchen, I love cooking,” he said.
The Manila-born chef’s passion for cooking began at an early age, as he remembered always eating home-cooked meals while growing up in the Philippines.
He moved with his family to Virginia when he was 10 and to Houston when he was 17. He moved to Austin in 2003 to attend the Texas Culinary Academy.
“I’m very familiar with Filipino food because that’s what I ate growing up. I’m not a very good cook of Filipino dishes though,” he added with a laugh.
In one of the episodes, he said his great grandfather’s resilience inspired him to do what he does.
“I feel fortunate to even have this opportunity,” he said. “My great grandfather from my father’s side fled from China to the Philippines to start a new life for his family and I’ve always felt like I had that responsibility being that I am his eldest grandson, so that is what I’m pursuing here trying to win Top Chef.”