In a season rife with Texas cliches, contrived challenges and guest stars—it is still a reality show, after all—Top Chef: Texas broke out something rarely seen and practically unmockable on Wednesday night: the genuine emotion shown when its cheftestants, and Austin’s Paul Qui of Uchiko in particular, found out that they’d be cooking for their culinary mentors. As Bravo’s in-house account tweeted:
— BravoTopChef (@BravoTopChef) February 9, 2012
Qui was shown wiping away tears less than a second after chef Tyson Cole, of Uchi and Uchiko, and all the other mentors walked into the room (though this being a reality show, it’s possible the waterworks actually occurred a moment later, when Qui spoke of his relationship with Cole).
“He’s mentored me and brought me up over the last, like, almost eight years, now and I’m like . . .”
Truly choked up, Qui turned to gestures, bringing his hand to his heart, followed by a shrug and a respectful bow. “Sorry, couldn’t finish that. But, um, thank you.”
— paul qui (@pqui) February 9, 2012
Later on the show Qui apologized for the display of emotion, and Cole replied, “What? I (bleeping) liked that man. Super exciting . . . You can win this. I think you will win.”
The challenge, host Padma Lakshmi said, was to “make a dish that fulfills and even exceeds (your mentor)’s expectations of you as a great chef.”
Qui exhaled nervously, but showed no fear in the kitchen, opting for . . . chilled soup?
“It’s all veg, but it’s all part of this bigger picture that wil come together once I pour the soup into the bowl,” Qui said. “The hardest part is there’s fourteen different steps to plate it.”
That had one fan worried on Twitter:
— Jeff Houck (@JeffHouck) February 9, 2012
Though Tom Colicchio made a salient observation:
— Tom Colicchio (@tomcolicchio) February 9, 2012
“I keep on second-guessing myself,” Qui said as he finished. “I really want to put more stuff on it. Being able to recognize that your dish is where it should be takes a lot of experience. And it takes a lot of discipline.”
It was a prescient observation (or, this being a reality show, was made after the fact). Qui’s chilled sunchoke and dashi soup with summer vegetables knocked out the whole table, winning him the challenge, a place in next week’s final, and a brand new Prius V.
“I think you’ve got a lot of nerve to actually just come in here with a soup,” Colicchio told Qui. “Young chefs don’t understand restraint. You knew that was enough was enough.”
Said Cole: “This is everything that I’ve preached to Paul over the years, is balance, of flavor, and not overdoing it. I’m smiling from ear to ear.”
Wrote judge Gail Simmons on her Entertainment Weekly blog:
There’s no point in hitting you over the head with it, but I can say with complete confidence that in all my seasons of shooting Top Chef, [Paul’s dish was] pretty much the single best thing that I have ever eaten on the show. It was so unbelievably mature and creative and I don’t think that in our description of it we did it justice. It was so beautiful the way he hand-placed the vegetables, [which] he then made into tubes and stood upright in the base of this bowl. Then poured in this dashi-sunchoke soup, the flavor of which I can’t even describe. All of us took one bite and we were sold. It was a really extraordinary dish and it was one I will remember for a very long time.
Now Qui, Chicagoans Beverly Kim and Sarah Grueneberg (the latter of whom is a Houston native), and North Carolinan Lindsay Autry face off in the season finale, which abandons our great state for the wintry climes of British Columbia, next Wednesday. A few tweeters had something to say about that:
— oh_steph (@oh_steph) February 9, 2012
Looks like the finale is in Lubbock. #topchef
— Ray Shea (@raynola) February 9, 2012
And Qui keeps picking up admirers:
If it were any other group, I’d say there’s a 75% chance a woman is the next #TopChef. …But they’re competing against Paul Qui. So yeah.
— Hayes Brown (@HayesBrown) February 9, 2012
— Rugi J. (@beautylovesco) February 9, 2012