March 2nd, 2012
10:08 AM ET
Paul Qui torched the competition all season long on “Top Chef: Texas,” and on Wednesday the Austin native defeated Sarah Grueneberg for the coveted title of Top Chef.
And, sure, a title is nice, but he also got the $125,000 grand prize that comes with it (not to mention the imminent endorsement deals).
Our trusty “Top Chef” recapper chatted with Paul over the phone shortly after the finale to get the dish (get it?) on everything from the Beverly drama to the cast’s party habits. Even after racking up six figures and an express ticket to food fame, Paul sounded as cool as cucumber kimchee. And that’s exactly why we love him.
CNN: Congratulations! Throughout the season, did you realize you were putting together probably the most dominant run in “Top Chef” history?
Paul Qui: As it was going on, I didn't realize it, no. I was just sort of cooking, keeping my head down, not trying to think about all that.
CNN: In addition to the grand prize, how much money did you win? It was hard for us viewers to keep track.
PQ: Well, I won another $60,000 plus the trip to Costa Rica. And the Prius.
CNN: How do you plan on spending the money? Do you have restaurant concepts in mind yet?
PQ: Well, first of all, I’m going to give a lot of that money to Sallie Mae. [laughs] And for now I’m going to stay focused on my work at Uchiko and spend some of it on that. And [my girlfriend] Deana of course.
CNN: On the show you discussed your roundabout path to becoming a chef. Did you ever think you’d one day be one of the most recognized chefs in the country at this age?
PQ: No, not at all. I was just happy to be in the back of the kitchen cooking, focusing on the food, so I had no expectations going into this.
CNN: Did you find yourself adapting your style, or getting nervous with all the celebrity judges?
PQ: Well, it’s weird. The more nervous I am, it’s like the more laid-back or calm I seem.
CNN: You certainly seemed more even-keeled than certain chefs who will remain nameless.
PQ: But yeah, I pretty much tried to cook the way I always cook. There were a few times when I was forced to do things I wasn’t familiar with, like the barbecue or chili challenges. I had never cooked barbecue before. But no matter what, I just always tried to cook balanced food. If I [could] take what they threw at me and cook with balanced flavors, then I was happy.
CNN: What did you think was the best dish you cooked all season?
PQ: The “enchanted forest” for the Charlize Theron challenge, the one with the bloody handprint. And I liked the sunchoke soup [from the mentor challenge], that was definitely one of my favorites.
CNN: Were any of the judges different from how you expected them to be?
PQ: Well, not really. After seeing the show, I knew they'd be pretty tough. Again, I went into it with no expectations, so I just took their feedback and demeanor for what it is, as part of the challenge.
CNN: The judges have said they don’t take the entire season into account when coming to a decision. In the finale, did you feel that they had to consider your season-long consistency?
PQ: I wasn't around when they discussed it, obviously, but at that point, I knew that I messed up the chawanmushi. I made peace with myself, as far as, if I went home it would be because of that. I was going to be OK with it, because there was a bad decision made. So really, I didn’t think about the judges’ process.
CNN: Let’s talk about the “Last Chance Kitchen” drama - it seemed to be an unpopular idea with the remaining chefs.
PQ: See, I liked “Last Chance Kitchen,” I thought it was a pretty cool idea. Granted, I was really surprised at the time. But it’s really cool because it’s just you and another chef, head-to-head, and you can’t say anything about it, because it’s one-on-one.
CNN: On a related note: were the viewers missing something with Beverly that caused other chefs to have so much animosity toward her?
PQ: Part of the reason a lot of the other chefs had animosity toward Bev is because they were scared they were going to lose to her. She’s a pretty fierce competitor. But at the same time she can be like a tornado in the kitchen, so everybody’s like “she’s not organized,” or whatever. But at the end of the day, she always knocks out her dishes, and her dishes taste good. So that’s part of it - the other chefs were like “Oh I can’t lose to her,” but she actually made some really good food.
CNN: It seemed like there was less drinking and more crying this year. Did your cast just not party as hard?
PQ: No, I think we had a lot of heavy partiers! But this season we had a lot of executive chefs who’d been around for a while, so they know how to keep it professional, I guess. But there was certainly some heavy drinking.
CNN: We’ll have to see the deleted scenes on the reunion show.
PQ: [laughs] Yeah.
CNN: Is there anything you’re going to miss about the show or anything you’re glad to leave behind?
PQ: Mainly I missed being back in my kitchen and being in the restaurant and cooking. I’m glad I don’t have to - well I can’t say ever - I’m just glad I’ll be back in my kitchen.
CNN: One last thing, a “Top Chef” geek-out question: when the losers “pack their knives and go,” are those really their knives, or just a prop?
PQ: Oh, each one of us has a knife pack. Our knife bags are attached to us. I could never go anywhere that I’m cooking without my knife roll, [and] I get pissed when people use my knives in the kitchen without asking me. Tyson Cole, my mentor, used to tell me your knife is like your wife or your girlfriend, you keep her close to you. Big deal for chefs.
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