On Wednesday’s Top Chef finale, Paul Qui narrowly beat Chicago chef Sarah Grueneberg to become the show’s latest winner. Now that he can finally tell people he won — the finale actually taped a couple months ago — the Austin chef is in New York for the requisite media blitz, and a few celebratory nights. We got him on the phone for a few minutes yesterday to talk about this past season, his win, and what he thinks about all the people who say this year’s challenges were too gimmicky.
Thank you very much.
You won a lot of challenges this season. Some people are wondering what your final haul was.
Um, it’s $185,000 plus the Prius, a trip to Costa Rica, and a trip to the world premiere of Charlize Theron’s movie.
You work in Austin. Do you think that gave you a home-field advantage for all the Texas challenges?
Not really. Even though I do work in Austin, this season was the first time I’d made barbecue, and the first time I’d made chili.
Plus, to win the finale, you had to go to Canada. Were you surprised with that move?
Seems like a real curve ball.
Yeah, I mean, I’ve seen it in past seasons where they end up somewhere else. I was hoping it’d be in an [exotic] country, like the year they went to Singapore. But I couldn’t ask for a better place than Vancouver because of the resources they have as far as fresh seafood and Asian ingredients.
Have you gotten used to seeing yourself on TV?
It still feels a little strange, but I think I’m getting more comfortable with it.
Have you been reading reviews and recaps online?
Not so much. Sometimes I do, but not so much.
There’s been some criticism that this season felt too drawn out, and that the challenges were overly gimmicky. Do you think that’s valid?
I don’t know. I think each of the seasons in the past, some challenges are cool, some of them are kind of whatever. I don’t think that this season was any "less" than others. There was definitely a lot of volume cooking, but I think that’s part of the skill of the chef. It plays more towards a chef versus a cook. If it’s a cooking challenge, you can cook one plate, but one plate is really nothing. If you’re a chef in a restaurant, it’s about making consistent plates seven nights a week. So it was more endurance-based this season.