Paul Qui, the Top Chef winner and popular Austin-based chef behind restaurants such as Qui and East Side King, was arrested Saturday morning on domestic violence charges. Those charges—a Class A misdemeanor for assaulting his girlfriend, and another for unlawful restraint—quickly became national news, with the more sensational details quickly getting pulled by outlets in other cities where Qui operates restaurants: The Miami New Times quoted the police affidavit in its headline about “Blood Smeared on Walls and Floors,” while the Austin American-Statesman reported that Qui accused his friends of flirting with his girlfriend and “and enticing her into having group sex” before things turned violent.
Because this is a criminal case, the details we know right now are very likely to get fleshed out as we learn more. What we know now, though, is that Qui’s mugshot shows visible injuries, and that the officer who arrested him noted that the apartment was full of broken glass and furniture, as well as noting the blood the New Times seized on. We know that the woman he’s accused of assaulting was in his apartment with her young son, that she had been living there for eight months, and that she told police that drugs—including cocaine—were involved. We know that the officer who arrived at the scene wrote in his report that he saw cuts, bruises, and swelling on the woman when he got there, and that Qui reportedly told him that he had grabbed her to keep her from leaving the apartment so he could “tell his side of the story” when the police arrived.
Almost certainly, there will be more information that comes out over the coming weeks and months. Whatever we learn about the encounter at Qui’s apartment, though, the challenges that Austin’s food media (typically not a group that overlaps with reporters who cover criminal and domestic violence charges) face here are substantial. Food writing is frequently service-based—readers want to know when the new place opens, where the best tacos are, and what to order—and the cult of personality that’s risen around chefs like Qui means that coverage tends to be based on both food and who the chefs present themselves to be.
That’s not a fault of the form or the reporters who work in it—for the most part, that’s the best way to cover the topic. But it’ll be unfortunate if the reporting on Qui and this incident treats his arrest on domestic violence charges as just another unfortunate thing that happens in the restaurant business. There’ll be business stories to write, but regardless of what ultimately happens with the charges, there’ll also be employees who have to choose between working for someone accused of serious and disturbing violence or leaving their jobs. There’ll be stories to write about the damage that these allegations do to the Qui brand, but any blowback will ultimately be weathered by people who choose not to associate with someone accused of violence.
Keeping the real, human stakes around the issue in mind is important, because the way we talk about domestic violence allegations frequently underplays how pervasive it is in our culture. According to the National Council on Domestic Violence, one in three women and one in four men are victims of violence in their lifetimes, and a woman in the U.S. is assaulted, on average, every nine seconds. Yet we rarely discuss it with the gravity it deserves. In the immediate aftermath of Qui’s arrest, commenters at Eater Austin called the site’s report on the arrest “tacky,” while the responses to KXAN’s Facebook post about the incident are full of bizarre jokes. The notion that domestic violence is either nobody’s business but the people involved or not something to take seriously is common, and it plays out seemingly whenever a high-profile man is arrested on such charges.
For his part, Qui issued a statement that, in a few sentences, covers a lot of bases. He claims to have instigated the emergency call that brought police to his door, declares himself innocent of the charge of assault, and also explains that he’ll be checking himself in to a treatment facility for an unspecified problem. He calls the incident a private matter:
“On Saturday morning, I asked my friend to call the police to aid in an argument with my girlfriend that had escalated beyond my control. I was arrested and charged with two misdemeanors. I am innocent of the charge of assault,” Qui wrote in an email.
“This situation made me realize that I need to take more time for my health and myself. I will be checking myself into a treatment facility in the coming days and I am appreciative of the support of my family, friends and partners. Thank you for respecting my privacy.”
All of this will ultimately play out in both the courts and in the public eye, as all cases involving high-profile domestic violence charges do. Regardless of how Qui’s case moves through the system, though, it’ll be important to keep the seriousness of the allegations in mind as we discuss it in public.