He was crowned the winner of Top Chef Season 9. Then he scored the prestigious 2012 James Beard prize for “Best Chef, Southwest.” Now, after taking home two of the three prizes at the 13th Annual S.Pellegrino Cooking Cup in Venice, Italy, Paul Qui is revealing the truth about the ultra-glamorous world of international culinary competitions.
"I was definitely a little nauseous!" Qui tells the Dish. But his queasiness might make sense: to make his dishes, Qui had to prepare them in a galley kitchen...while racing on the open sea.
"The kitchen was a pretty small, tight space and it was pretty hot," he says. "I had to stick my head up on deck every 15 minutes or so!"
Qui also relished the challenge of having to prepare food for 160 (!) people, most of whom had never been to Austin (where he just opened his new restaurant).
"They always asked about Michelin stars because we were in Europe. And I’m like, 'No…'" Paul says with a laugh. "And then they're like, 'What kind of restaurant?' And I'm like, 'I came from sushi but I also cook,' and then they're like, 'Nobu?' And I'm like, 'No…' But it was cool—some of the chefs were like, 'You're doing this food in Austin?!"
Qui managed to overcome any discomfort to create some imaginative, boundary-pushing dishes. His first winning plate: cured local mackerel with compressed tomato seeds, tomato dashi, candied olives, and basil. For his second dish, a spin on Japanese Chawanmushi, he crafted an egg custard in a prosciutto rind dashi with langoustines, local peas, ovoli mushrooms, and white peach, coriander and tomato salsa.