More than being proud of Paul Qui for being the first-ever Pinoy to become a “Top Chef," the country can also take pride that he "outcooked" not only the usual 15 or 18 contenders but 29 chefs from all over the US, a first in the show's history.
Born in Makati and raised in San Juan, Qui’s family left the country when he was 10. Now 31 years old, he became only the second Asian nationality to succeed in the cooking reality show (the first being the third season Vietnamese-American winner Hung Huynh).
Though worn out from the backbreaking task of cooking a four-course meal for 250 guests during the BeTV launch at Intercontinental Hotel, Makati, Qui was still in high spirits and all smiles when he sat down for an interview with Bulletin Entertainment and other members of the press on March 7.
According to Texas-based Qui, his “love for food” began in childhood through the smell of baked breads in the morning at the bustling bakery in his family’s grocery store. As he pursued his culinary dream through "Top Chef," Qui noted the inherent Pinoy characteristic that served him well in bagging the illustrious title.
Owing that the number one thing that we Filipinos have is that we have a lot of heart and a lot of guts he shares that its one thing he definitely got that from his parents and that definitely helped him push through to ‘Top Chef'.
Cooking-wise, though, Qui noted how the Filipino dishes opened his mind to “citrus and acidic components,” to which he took a liking and eventually incorporated into his dishes, noting that they “open up your palate and make food taste better.”
His food style has been called “fresh,” and with good reason. “I like things that are fresh. I like fresh ideas. I like fresh flavor combinations," said the newest “Top Chef,” who was trained in classic Asian and European cuisine. Broadening his skills, he shared that he's also now discovering the Vietnamese, Cambodian and Thai cuisines.
Speaking of international cuisines, Qui pointed out that the Filipino cuisine is a little underrated compared to the fare offered by neighboring countries such as Japan and China.
Based on his observation, though, the Filipino food is not “popular” primarily because “it’s a little on the heavier side,” seemingly pertaining to Pinoy’s love for carb-heavy dishes best exemplified by rice, which is eaten here practically every meal of the day.
Asked how he cooks Adobo, the quintessential favorite dish by locals and foreigners alike, he replied, “I like my Adobo with peppercorn and bay leaf. I don’t like soy sauce so I cook it with coconut vinegar. And I like using pork belly; I get liempo and a mixture of pork shoulder. And I do like to mix pork and chicken sometimes."
One may think that Qui’s sweeping gastronomic knowledge may have chipped his “love” for the good ‘ol Pinoy staples, what with being schooled in the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Atlanta and eventually becoming an Executive Chef at the Texas-based Japanese Farmhouse dining and sushi restaurant, Uchiko. But to everyone’s surprise, when asked to name his favorite Pinoy food, his unpretentious response was, “It’s really hard to beat when you get a nice, hot and fresh pandesal.”
Though he hauled nearly 0,000 in cash plus other incentives from "Top Chef," for him, the most significant thing that he took away from the show were the experiences and lessons.
Qui shared that he’s a little uncertain which road to take after his celebrated win, but his long-term goal is, of course, to have his own restaurant, preferably similar to that of Japanese chef Jiro Ono's as shown in the 2011 film “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”
“Top Chef Season 9” will air locally on BeTV (formerly AXN Beyond) soon.