A Winning Year for Paul Qui

Top Chef? Won that. James Beard Award? Got one of those. Next on the list? LUCKYRICE (lucky for us)! Paul Qui

As you may have read in a previous email, LUCKYRICE is producing a Night Market in Las Vegas on June 23. Twenty of the country’s top Asian chefs are checking into The Cosmopolitan for the event, including Sang Yoon, Jordan Kahn, Susur Lee and Dale Talde. Tickets are still available, for now.

Paul Qui is also one of the chefs making the journey. “Vegas is always a blur to me,” says Qui of his previous trips to Sin City. He admits that all of the previous visits were bachelor-party related, and food was not really the focus.

But this time will be different.

His friend Pichet Ong—also serving at the Night Market—has invited him along to Lotus of Siam. There will also likely be a trip to Joël Robuchon with his fellow Top Chef alums Sosa and Talde. Oh, you didn’t hear? Paul Qui won the last season of the cooking reality show, filmed in his home state of Texas. He’s the executive chef at the highly regarded Uchiko ("Japanese farmhouse dining and sushi restaurant") in Austin.

After graduating from culinary school nine years ago, Qui found himself sitting at the sushi bar at Uchi, a before-it’s-time place run by a Japanese traditionalist turned culinary artist named Tyson Cole. “It excited me right off the bat and I was blown away by the combinations of fish and fruit,” he says of his first encounter with Cole, a mentor-like figure he would later collaborate with. Cole won Best Chef Southwest at the 2011 James Beard Awards. Qui took the same award this year. A beyond impressive winning streak if you consider the nominees.

And it doesn’t end with Uchiko. Qui is also the mastermind behind an ambitious chainlet of food trucks operating behind various dive bars on Austin’s Eastside. The three locations serve Asian-inspired street food like beet fries with kewpie mayo and chicken kara-age. The chicken thighs are brined in fish sauce, dusted in cornstarch and then deep-fried again in more fish sauce. “Most people don’t know that there is a lot of fish sauce in it,” he says of the ridiculously popular dish that pairs well with White Denim on the stereo and a half-bottle of Tito’s (guilty as charged).

“I ate too much foie gras,” Qui quips about his first trip to Paris (after a stop in London). This is the kind of year it’s been — awards, world travel and too much foie gras. But Qui, a good guy with a perma-smile and look-you-in-the-eye humility, is not letting this fame stuff go to his head. With the Top Chef money in the bank, he plans to open his own project in the coming months. He won’t reveal details (smart man!), but it’s going to be big. Foie gras will likely be involved. —Matt Rodbard