Top Chef: Texas Winner Paul Reveals All!
In true Texas fashion, this season of Top Chef: Texas was bigger and bolder than ever. TheInsidier.com had a one-on-one with this seasons' big winner -- the soft-spoken Paul Qui. With a season chalk full of wild challenges, tough-talking personalities and high drama, Paul took his reserved personality and his talent in the kitchen all the way to the bank -- winning more money than any cheftestant on Bravo's hit show. Read on to see how Paul felt about staying strong to win big.
TheInsider.com: How does it feel to be Top Chef?
Paul Qui: Pretty surreal. I don’t think it’s fully sunk in to me yet even though I know it happened a few months ago. But I am glad that I got to win Top Chef: Texas.
TheInsider: How much did you end up winning in total?
Paul Qui: $185,000, plus a trip to Costa Rica and a trip to the world premiere of Charlize Theron’s movie, [Snow White and the Huntsman].
TheInsider: That must be the most anyone has ever won on Top Chef.
Paul Qui: That’s what I am hearing.
TheInsider: After the judges table was over, did you think you were going to win?
Paul Qui: No. They were really hard to read at the judges table, so I had no idea. I think I was relieved because it was the last challenge and there was no other option, no other surprises. We already put our hearts out. And whatever happens, the outcome is going to be the outcome. I felt very relieved at that point. I would have been relieved if I had won or lost.
TheInsider: You have really dominated this whole season so it seemed like the title was yours to lose. Did you feel that pressure?
Paul Qui: I felt a little bit of that. I didn’t focus on any of my winnings. I just focused on how I run a restaurant: You are only as good as your last plate you put out, and that’s how I approached every challenge.
TheInsider: The judges seemed to love both your and Sarah Grueneberg's meals. Why do you think you won?
Paul Qui: Even though I cooked my style and I didn’t branch out too much from what I do, I think they enjoyed how I orchestrated the meal …the way I put it together. So it gave me a slight edge over Sarah. They said it was a really hard decision. And either meal was extremely good, better than anything they had had at that point.
TheInsider: How did it feel for the judges to say that was the best meal they had ever had on Top Chef, including All-Stars?
Paul Qui: It was pretty amazing. It was pretty awesome. It made me feel really, really good. They have had some really strong chefs on Top Chef over the past two years and over the last nine seasons.
TheInsider: You said you had failed out of college and you wanted to make your parents proud now. What did having your parents at the finale mean to you?
Paul Qui: It definitely gave me a sense of fulfillment for them to see that choosing this type of career [was the right choice]. I feel like my mom and my dad always wanted me to have a "professional" career like a doctor, or a lawyer or work in an office …something that has job security. … But, I ended up in the kitchen. … Luckily, it was really a proud moment for me.
TheInsider: It was very touching to see your dad cry at the finale.
Paul Qui: I’ve never seen my dad cry like that – ever.
TheInsider: What was the hardest part of being on Top Chef?
Paul Qui: I think the hardest part of being on the show is probably being in an environment you aren’t used to. Not necessarily the cooking, but being in the house, being isolated. Being away from your friends and family.
TheInsider: What was the hardest challenge?
Paul Qui: The challenges that felt the hardest for me were the fire and ice – because of the large quantities, because you are feeding a large amount of people.
TheInsider: What was your favorite challenge?
Paul Qui: I definitely liked the final challenge. And I also enjoyed the mentor challenge and I also enjoyed the Charlize Theron challenge quite a bit.
TheInsider: There was a lot of drama this season but you seemed totally impervious to it. How did you steer clear of all the drama?
Paul Qui: I focused on the cooking and just the competition and I didn’t worry about anything else.
TheInsider: Is there anything you wish you had done differently – even though you won?
Paul Qui: I wish we had won restaurant wars. We had a good chance and I think we could have won it. I totally forgot about restaurant wars (laughs) – restaurant was really the hardest challenge because we were still trying to get to know each other. That’s the only challenge I really wish I had won. I think we were playing it to safe -- still not that confident at that point in the competition. I think we were still being too nice to each other to a certain degree (laughs).
TheInsider: What is your favorite food guilty pleasure?
Paul Qui: I like friend chicken and I like ice cream.
TheInsider: Some of the winners on Top Chef have been extremely successful; others seem to have faded away. What are you going to keep it going?
Paul Qui: I don’t know. I am just going to keep on cooking, I think. I am going to keep my head down and keep cooking. I am still at Uchiko in Austin. For me I just want to focus on making food. I don’t need to be a celebrity chef. I just want to make the best possible meal I can.
TheInsider: Do you feel like there is a stigma is about cooking "Asian" food?
Paul Qui: I think so. I think there are certain clichés about Asian food that people think about. Soy sauce, sesame seeds – its all grouped into one cuisine but its very distinct and there are a lot of subtle differences.
TheInsider: What is the biggest thing you are taking away from being on Top Chef?
Paul Qui: I think the biggest thing I am taking away is all the great people I’ve met while doing this. I’ve met some amazing, amazing people and I hope to keep in contact with them in the future.