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Celebrity Chefs

Awaiting Trial On Domestic Violence Charges, Paul Qui Invades Dallas

Austin’s wayward chef is a contested addition to the dining scene.
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Paul Qui's promotional photo from Top Chef. (Courtesy: Bravo)

This morning, Eater Dallas reported that Austin chef Paul Qui will soon open what is being billed as a Japanese taqueria in a new restaurant development in Richardson. The place will be called Taqui. Aside the terrible, self-serving name, there are other problems with a new restaurant by Qui, Austin’s enfant terrible.

Qui, a young star in Austin’s hot chef firmament, worked with Tyson Cole of Uchi. He lit up the food truck scene, then opened an eponymous restaurant that was a darling of the dining set. Then, in 2016, he was charged with domestic violence, in a stomach-turning incident in which he was accused of assaulting his girlfriend in front of her child and blocking her exit from his apartment. Drugs and alcohol were involved. The victim was left bruised and with a cut on her arm. Responding police said her jaw appeared swollen. The walls were bloodied. A chastened-sounding statement on Qui’s part announced a retreat to a treatment facility.

Chef Paul Qui’s mugshot. (Credit: Austin Police Department)

The ripples immediately expanded to Qui’s career. His hip restaurant in Austin’s East Side closed within months. He re-opened it in fall 2017, under the name Kuneho, and raked in a four-star review in the Austin Chronicle, causing a social media storm well-documented by Eater Austin, the outrage stemming from the inanely framed question of whether Kuneho’s success “redeemed” Qui. Kuneho closed in November 2017. Meanwhile, Qui opened Aqui in Houston. There, Houston Chronicle dining critic Alison Cook attacked the problem differently. In an essay that accompanied her (also) four-star review, she laid bare her misgivings, as a food writer and as a survivor of sexual assault herself. This is what modern food writing means now. It is an ethical act. As noted by Helen Rosner in The New Yorker,  the James Beard Awards in 2018 established a set of “values” for its nominees—Aqui was not named, but its pastry chef, Jill Bartolome, was, individually.

In light of this—in light of #MeToo and everything that we have seen in recent months, I would be remiss not to mention that the most important thing about Qui coming to Dallas is what he forces us to confront.

In his recent review of talented chef April Bloomfield’s restaurant Hearth & Hound in Los Angeles, Jonathan Gold gives much room to the dilemma of how to review the restaurant, given that Bloomfield’s business partner Ken Friedman is currently facing sexual misconduct allegations. Should we condemn her? Should Gold silence her talent by denying a review? He points out that these are philosophical and moral questions. “[W]hatever side of the question you lean towards, it is hard not to feel queasy at the result,” he concludes.

In a compellingly written and aptly titled essay last month, the Dallas Observer’s dining critic Brian Reinhardt points out that Dallas’s restaurateur and Eatzi owner Phil Romano himself is awaiting judgment on a 2016 sexual assault allegation lawsuit. Reinhardt asks, “Why doesn’t anyone care?”

Will we have a four-star taqueria from Qui, the contested chef, who in many ways traced an arc from wunderkind to literal enfant terrible, terrible child? I don’t know. Should you go once it opens? I don’t know. Should you–or we–factor all of this into our assessment? Decide for yourself. But I’d rather you were informed.

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