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It's about an hour before Aqui opens on Saturday afternoon, a quiet time of prep and concentration before diners file in to eat ponzu-kissed yellowtail and tuna-filled arepas at one of Houston's best new restaurants. Paul Qui sits in the tranquil, glass-enclosed courtyard and watches a staff meeting in progress. The James Beard Award-winning chef who once scaled the highest peaks of culinary stardom knows that the assembled workers are responsible for Aqui's day-to-day success. He also knows that his Montrose restaurant, the biggest and most expensive venture of his career, has been a lightning rod for controversy since it opened in August.
But, in many ways, it is about Qui — the fate of a high-profile restaurant so often these days is intertwined with its celebrity face. Qui, 37, is facing trial Monday for domestic assault as the conscience of the country's restaurant scene continues to reel amid sexual misconduct scandals that have embroiled famous chefs including John Besh and Mario Batali. Foodies, in Houston and beyond, are debating the morality of patronizing certain restaurants based on reported allegations. The national discourse even led the James Beard Foundation in January to ask its committee members to consider integrity when making nominations for its annual chef awards, the culinary world's biggest prize.
Paul Qui Affidavit by liz on Scribd. Jonathan Horowitz, president of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association, said heightened attention and scrutiny comes with more responsibility.
Qui was arrested at his Austin apartment on the morning of March 19, According to a widely circulated police affidavit, Qui came home with friends and they all indulged in cocaine, marijuana and alcohol. His live-in girlfriend at the time was in bed with her young son when they arrived, but ed the party. She stated that Qui was intoxicated, grew jealous of interactions between her and his friends, kicked the friends out, then started knocking over furniture and breaking glass. The girlfriend told police she tried to leave the apartment several times with her son, and that Qui pushed her and her son away and "threw her several times against walls, doors and furniture.
The affidavit noted blood smeared on walls, a cut and bruising on her arms, and that her jaw was slightly puffy and swollen. Qui told the Austin American-Statesman later that he had asked a friend to call the police that morning "in an argument with my girlfriend that had escalated beyond my control. Qui's Austin attorney, Christopher M. Gunter, said Qui's girlfriend has ed an affidavit of non-prosecution, a sworn statement that the alleged victim in a criminal case expresses a desire to halt prosecution.
I never thought I'd be that guy. Never in my life. Qui's mugshot — pink-rimmed eyes, disheveled hair, scrapes on his cheek — wound up on websites around the world. It was an astonishing departure from the smiling, boyish face that won Season 9 of Bravo's "Top Chef" with his modern interpretations of pan-Asian foods inthe same year he won Best Chef Southwest at the James Beard Awards for his work at Austin's Uchiko restaurant. Qui was born in Manila, Philippines. His parents split up when he was very young and he lived with his father, who was largely absent.
At age 10 he moved to northern Virginia to live with his mother. At 15 he began spending summers in the Houston area, with his father who had moved to Missouri City. Qui moved to Houston full time in to pursue a bachelor's degree in art at the University of Houston.
He eventually dropped out as his attention focused on other pursuits — waiting tables, promoting clubs and partying. I was selling drugs. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. Already familiar with the restaurant industry from his work as a waiter, he thought he'd give culinary school a shot. He moved there in for the month program. Four months later, he began working at Uchi, Tyson Cole's acclaimed modern Japanese restaurant, rising through the ranks before transferring to the executive chef role at buzzed-about sister restaurant, Uchiko, in He found it in his restaurant family and within the food community — and in alcohol and drugs.
Qui remembers those years as full of conflict and emotion. The trappings of his fame came with great experiences: travel, food, people. But he was saddled by guilt from being gone from his kitchen for extended periods to do food festivals and events. The push to challenge himself was extreme, and much of it came from within. Everyone told me to slow down, but I didn't. He went to a month-long rehab immediately after the arrest but says he remains a work in progress. During his time at Uchiko, Qui had partnered with a friend to open a food truck called East Side King, which eventually spawned other ventures in Austin.
He opened Aqui last summer, a ground-up build on Lower Westheimer whose menu, overseen daily by chef de cuisine Gabriel Medina, features inventive Southeast Asian food with strong Filipino influence. Qui expected that some Houston diners would see the restaurant as tainted by association and boycott it. But he wishes that the work of his staff at Aqui was not being evaluated based on a night he regrets.
I can't change their mind," he said of people who won't eat at Aqui — and who call it out — because they see him as a domestic abuser. One of those people is Gwendolyn Knapp, who wrote an essay for Houstonia magazine railing against Chronicle critic Alison Cook's decision to write positively about the food and staff at Aqui. Amanda Kludt, the editor-in-chief of Eaterput it more plainly in an to the Chronicle: "I have zero interest in going to Paul's restaurants. And I don't imagine our national critic, when he comes through Houston on his next visit, will dine at Aqui given the breadth of options in town.
The staff at Aqui chooses to work there despite the controversy. Pastry chef Jillian Bartolome recently spoke on the subject in an article titled, "What it's like to be an employee of a maligned restaurant. For me, this is an uncommon opportunity that I took to advance my career. It's been an incredible experience for me. I don't expect anybody to agree with my choice, but none of those people are standing in my shoes, or know anything about what my journey has been.
Bartolome added that each situation is complex, be it Qui or other chefs, and that often conversations about them lack nuance: "Everybody wants to stand on the right side of morality, and to even acknowledge the other side sometimes opens the door to a very slippery slope. It's not one instance," Colicchio said. Has his opinion of Qui as a chef changed since the arrest? It's hard to say," Colicchio said.
I think we have to believe in redemption at some point. It's hard not to. Forgiveness is a part of it. But you have to earn forgiveness. You don't get forgiveness because you outlasted it. You have to own up to it. Colicchio said he still considers Qui a great chef, one of the best to ever compete on "Top Chef.
It also doesn't excuse him for what he's done," he said. Not so today, when the industry is working to fix itself in the wake of the Me Too movement. Anita Jaisinghani, the chef-owner of Pondicheri in Houstonsaid she's not sure if she'd give Aqui her business. Like Kludt, she questions why a Houston diner, with so many other options, would eat there in light of the allegations. Still, she said, Qui deserves compassion as much as the next man. That's human nature. For his part, Qui hopes one day he can get to a point where his arrest is no longer a discussion topic.
Most Popular. Paul Qui Affidavit by liz on Scribd "Award winners are held up as role models," said Emily Luchetti, interim president of the Beard Foundation, "and their character should play a part. As his career skyrocketed, Qui said he felt more lost. Houston's food scene is as lively as ever, with recently-opened restaurants and exciting new concepts on the horizon. Billionaires are in a space race, and Texas has a front-row seat. Elon Musk brings exploding rockets, real estate to South Texas. How we got the story on SpaceX and Blue Origin.Sex dating in Houstonia
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