It’s only 5 p.m. on the first shift of a multi-night guest chef stint by Paul Qui at Uchi Houston and already the Top Chef sounds crazy busy. Qui, executive chef of Uchiko in Austin, is in town to visit his sister restaurant where he’ll be preparing a handful of his dishes from “Top Chef: Texas” – the chef competition reality show that he won Feb. 29 (he also won the most elimination challenges and $60,000 in the process in addition to his $125,000 grand prize).
It’s been quite a year for the protégé of Uchi/Uchiko owner Tyson Cole. Not only did he win the top-rated series on Bravo, he also recently nabbed a nomination as Best Chef Southwest nomination from the James Beard Foundation Awards, which his mentor, Cole, won last year.
We talked to the chef about the Year of Qui. Here are 10 quick questions for the Quickfire champ:
What was it like to have Paul Qui Day in Austin and the key to the city?
It was a little bizarre, but I’m grateful to the city.
What do you get to do with key to the city? What does it get you?
I don’t know. I should have sped or broke some laws or something while I had the key.
You were invited to give a cooking demonstration at the White House’ annual Easter Egg Roll on Monday. What did you make?
I basically made a Filipino dessert called halo-halo. It’s almost like a parfait and a snow cone put together.
Did you get to meet Michelle Obama who hosted? What was that like?
Yes, she is really tall. She’s a sweetheart. She made it so not awkward because I’m a very awkward person. She made me feel very comfortable.
The first Austin Food & Wine Festival is coming up. Do you feel the pressure to show off the city in its best culinary light?
Absolutely. We’re going to have a lot of visitors from out of the state. Some of them are my culinary heroes like Morimoto. I want to show the best of the city.
You have three food trucks. What are food trucks doing to regular restaurant business and how are they pushing the culinary envelope?
I think a lot of trailers are forced to find innovative ways to make their food. The beauty of the trailers is the owners are the chefs. They’re in the trailers; they’re invested in the business and want you to have a really good meal. At restaurants sometimes you get the chefs and sometimes you don’t.
When you’re in Houston do you eat at our food trucks?
No I haven’t been to a food truck in Houston yet. I heard there’s a truck that does deep fried sweetbreads. And I’ve heard good things about the Eatsie Boys.
Are you ever opening your own restaurant?
That’s a surprise. I’m going stay vague with that one.
You were nominated for best chef southwest for James Beard this year. Your boss won this last year. Is there a weird pressure?
Yes, I feel a weird pressure. I hope I get it, but it’s my first year getting nominated.
What will you do if you win?
I have no idea. Cook my heart out at the next restaurant.