'Top Chef' winner Paul Qui serves Filipino-inspired meal

By Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Mar 08 2012 06:32 PM | Updated as of Mar 09 2012 09:49 PM

'Top Chef' winner Paul Qui serves Filipino-inspired meal 1
Season 9 winner Paul Qui poses for a photo beside a poster showing "Top Chef" host Padma Lakshmi and judge Tom Colicchio. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

MANILA, Philippines - Paul Qui, winner of the latest season of "Top Chef," is in town.

The Filipino-American chef was only planning to attend a cousin's wedding, but he managed to squeeze some time to attend an event organized by Sony Pictures Television Networks. AXN Beyond (soon to be called beTV), one of Sony Pictures' channels, currently airs "Top Chef."

Qui, who lived in San Juan for 10 years, said he is happy to be back in the country.

"I'm extremely proud to say I'm from the Philippines and I kicked everybody's ass," he told members of the press and bloggers on Thursday night. "Filipinos have a lot of heart. I got that from my parents."

Qui served a four-course meal containing mostly local ingredients, from longganisa (Filipino sausage) to Manila clams, during the event. He humbly admitted that he didn't get the result he wanted, but remained hopeful that his 250 guests were able to appreciate his dishes.

There seemed to have a shortage of servers that night as the food was already cold when it reached the tables.

"I'm a little upset about the food tonight, but I hope you still enjoyed it," the Filipino-American chef said. "I hope it still works out."

Besides, it's unfair to judge him based on only one meal. Qui has been the most consistent bet in Season 9 of "Top Chef," which features a panel of celebrity and professional chefs as judges.

Qui, who studied at the Texas Culinary Academy (now called the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts), was trained in classic French and Japanese cuisine. Currently, he is an executive chef at Uchiko, a farmhouse dining and sushi restaurant in Austin, Texas.

Asked to describe his food and style of cooking, Qui said: "Fresh, I like fresh ideas and flavor combinations... And innovative. I believe a dish doesn't have to be too complicated."

The meal

Qui's first course was a very simple salad containing jicama (a sweet root vegetable that looks like a turnip), mint leaves, peanuts and a green curry sauce.

'Top Chef' winner Paul Qui serves Filipino-inspired meal 2
Qui's first course, a salad containing jicama, green curry, mint leaves and peanuts. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

The salad's delightful taste made up for its plain appearance. The dish had a hint of sweetness and spice, and was a great way to start the meal.

Not surprisingly, it was also Qui's favorite dish in his menu for the night. "It had fresh, light and crisp textures," he said.

The second course, unfortunately, was not as remarkable. Qui combined meat and seafood in his next dish -- parrot fish, longganisa and clams -- which took a while to be served.

'Top Chef' winner Paul Qui serves Filipino-inspired meal 3
Qui's parrot fish with longganisa and clam jus. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

The dish lacked unity, as if the ingredients were just randomly placed on the plate.

Qui's third course could have made up for this if the waiters served it on time.The kimchi puree and shimeji mushrooms added that extra flavor and texture to the roasted pork belly, making it really tasty.

Unfortunately, the meat was a bit tough because it had gone cold.

'Top Chef' winner Paul Qui serves Filipino-inspired meal 4
Qui's roasted pork belly with kimchi puree and shimeji mushrooms. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com 

For dessert, Qui served a coconut/pandan panna cotta with lychees, mangoes and Thai chili. The dish grows on you, with it tasting better after every spoonful.

'Top Chef' winner Paul Qui serves Filipino-inspired meal 5
Qui's coconut/pandan panna cotta with lychees, mangoes and Thai chili. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

On Filipino food

Qui said his favorite Filipino food is pan de sal, a bread made of flour, eggs, yeast, sugar and salt. His family owned a grocery and bakery in Tarlac province.

"We used to hang out there," he said, referring to his family's bakery.

Qui believes that Filipino food is "pretty close to the spotlight" as restaurants in the United States are shifting to the "nose to tail" trend, where all parts of an animal are used to prepare a dish. This has long been common in local cuisine, from the dinuguan (a stew featuring pork blood and innards) to the crispy ulo (deep fried pork head).

But beyond these exotic items, he said Filipino vegetable dishes are something that the country should promote more often.

"We have a lot of great vegetable dishes, like atchara," he said.

Like most Filipino chefs, Qui also has his own version of adobo, which is considered one of the country's national dishes. He prefers using pork belly or shoulder (or a combination of pork and chicken), and coconut vinegar instead of soy sauce.

As he starts a new life outside "Top Chef," Qui wants to return to his roots and learn more about Southeast Asian cuisine. "My knowledge of Filipino food is a bit smaller," he admitted.