Paul Qui is man of contrasts. Although you might recognize him from his victorious run on season 9 of Top Chef, Qui is no reality-show diva; rather, he’s soft-spoken and straightforward, letting his food do most of the talking. And on that front, there’s plenty to say—Qui’s cuisine involves an inventive mix of Japanese and French technique, peppered with the Southeast Asian flavors of his youth.
Qui spent the first decade of his life in the Philippines, where his family owned a grocery store and bakery, before relocating to the suburbs of D.C. at age 10. His kitchen career started in Austin, Texas, under the tutelage of Uchi chef Tyson Cole, who eventually promoted Qui to executive chef at his second Japanese restaurant, Uchiko.
In addition to pushing the envelope at Uchiko—last year he took home a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest—Qui recently opened the first brick-and-mortar outlet of his ragingly popular East Side King food truck, where he’s serving a greatest-hits menu culled from his tenure with Cole.
“I love the mix of very deep flavors with something fresh and raw,” says Qui of his cooking style. “That’s definitely a format that resonates with me—even with something as simple as chips and salsa.” Here, Qui breaks down the ten dishes—from his grandmother’s hearty adobo to delicate nigiri at Uchiko—that have defined his journey in food thus far.