Graduate: 2004, Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Austin
Degree: Associate of Applied Science in Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts
Current Position: Executive Chef, Uchiko, Austin, Texas
Accolades: Bravo's Top Chef: Texas Season 9 Winner, 2012 James Beard Semi-finalist
A Chef’s story of determination from the kitchens of Le Cordon Bleu to winning Bravo’s Top Chef: Texas
Chef Paul Qui, Le Cordon Bleu graduate, winner of Bravo’s Top Chef: Texas Season 9 and James Beard award semi-finalist, found his passion for cooking while waiting tables at a local restaurant. His interest in the kitchen led him to Texas Culinary Academy (now known as Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Austin) where his education helped him land a position at Uchi restaurant in Austin, Texas. Starting out as a stage, Chef Paul worked hard to become the Chef de Cuisine and eventually his current position of Executive Chef at Uchiko, also in Austin.
Chef Paul represented some of the best chefs from across the country as he competed for and won the title of Bravo’s Top Chef: Texas after winning an unbelievable 6 of 12 elimination challenges. To top off Chef Paul’s list of great accomplishments, he was named a 2012 James Beard semi-finalist for Best New Chef: Southwest.
“Keep your head down, keep pushing and commit to it”
Getting to know Chef Paul Qui – Q/A
When did you realize cooking was your passion?
When I was 22, I was in college and waiting tables at a restaurant. It was then that I realized I was much more interested in what the guys in the kitchen were doing than anything I was learning in college, so I decided to go to culinary school.
What did you learn in culinary school that has proven to be indispensible throughout your culinary career and during your experience on Top Chef: Texas?
My education made me more focused as a person and taught me how to push myself. When I was in school, I was in class from 6 a.m. - Noon and then would go to Uchi where I worked for free from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. – and then it would all start again the next day. Having the experience of working and going to school definitely pushed me hard and drove me to do what I do now.
What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a culinary career?
If you are thinking about going to culinary school, I suggest checking out a restaurant kitchen to make sure you know what kind of business you are getting into. Once you are in school and you decide to make the commitment, put your head down and make sure you work for it. You will learn so much from the instructors, but there is more to learn by watching and observing them. You’ll get more out of it if you are observant.
My greatest advice is to keep your head down, keep pushing and commit to it.
As a chef and alumnus, you have been active in recruiting Le Cordon Bleu students as externs and cooks in your restaurants. Why do you actively recruit them? What do you see in Le Cordon Bleu students that make them stand out?
Definitely the drive and passion for the industry. My current and past sous chefs at Uchi are both Le Cordon Bleu graduates. I’ve found that a lot of my rock stars in the kitchen come from Le Cordon Bleu and I think it’s all about building a culture. I think the school has a culture of students that are passionate about what they do and have the drive to pursue their dreams. I was once at that stage and it’s something I want those students to pursue. I want to give them a chance to do that -- we have a lot of strong guys and girls from Le Cordon Bleu (in our restaurants).
How did it feel to go back to Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Dallas and Austin for the competition?
It felt pretty cool. The current location (in Austin) wasn’t there when I was in school so when I walked in, I just thought, “Wow, this is nice!” The kitchens were large with a lot of space and the best part was getting to cook in a well-outfitted kitchen.
What one person – living or past – would you like to cook for and why?
I would love to cook for Master Chef Michel Bras. I’ve always admired his style and have wanted to eat his food.
Conversely, who would you like to have cook for you – and why?
I would love to have Chef Ferran Adria cook for me because I never had the opportunity to go to Spain before he closed his restaurant, El Bulli.
What is your favorite cookbook to read/use/learn from?
One of my all-time favorites is Michel Bras’ cookbook “Essential Cusine.” I also think Thomas Keller’s cookbooks are staples for any chef because the recipes are always really solid. Finally, “Modernist Cuisine” is a huge asset to any chef’s library.
What cooking technique do you see gaining more popularity this year?
Since Noma in Denmark has been gaining popularity over the past few years, I’ve definitely seen more people cooking with ashes.
Anything you’d like to see gain in popularity?
I’m starting to see more and more Japanese influence. Also, there seems to be a shift to simpler food with chefs like Laurent Gras. I think the new direction is that everyone is simplifying their food and concentrating more on the ingredients.
What are the three basic skills should all cooks have?
For me, it has a lot to do with your mental state. You need a lot of focus, heart and drive. If you have those three, all the technical skills will come into place.
Do you have any other advice for aspiring culinary professionals?
Don’t ever give up. This industry is extremely tough and it’s not the easiest industry to be in. Make sure your mind and heart are in the right place and keep on pushing.