Chef Paul Qui is having the charges dropped against him. But will that change public opinion?
The domestic assault case against one of Texas’ most celebrated celebrity chefs that’s rocked the state’s close-knit foodie community is coming to a close. Whether it’s conclusion will satisfy many is another matter.
Criminal charges against Texas chef Paul Qui are set to be dropped by Austin prosecutors. Qui’s girlfriend, the victim in the alleged violent domestic dispute that led to his arrest in March 2016, declined to cooperate with prosecutors.
“It is our understanding that the charges are to be dropped on Monday. Paul is feeling a great sense of relief that this is all behind him,” Qui’s lawyer, Christopher Gunter, tells PaperCity. “It was an unfortunate misunderstanding that everyone involved in regrets. Paul turned it into a very positive thing. Immediately after the incident, he sought and obtained some very good treatment and learned a lot about himself.”
Gunter confirms that Qui went into treatment for substance abuse.
Qui’s case was slated to go to trial in Austin next week. Qui is a James Beard Award-winning chef, Top Chef Season 9 winner and the owner of the controversial new Houston restaurant Aqui.
Both charges against Qui were Class A misdemeanors: unlawful restraint and assault causing bodily harm to a family member. In the publicly available police report from the night of the incident, the responding officers state that when they arrived to Qui’s apartment, a friend of the chef informed them that a couple was fighting inside. When Qui exited the apartment, his face, arms, legs and clothing were covered in blood, according to the report.
The officers noted that the woman in the apartment was sobbing uncontrollably and clutching onto a small boy. The right side of her jaw was swollen and slightly puffy, the report states.
“It was an unfortunate misunderstanding that everyone involved in regrets. Paul turned it into a very positive thing.”
Qui and his friends had taken Xanax, cocaine and marijuana and had been drinking alcohol. Qui’s then-live-in girlfriend said he had become jealous, told his friends to leave, and thrown her into furniture, doors and the wall, preventing her and her young son from leaving, according to the police report.
In the year since the incident, Qui opened Aqui in Houston. (He also owns the East Side King restaurants and food trailers in Austin, the city where he burst onto the national food scene.)
Diners considering eating at Aqui faced with a moral quandary: Should they dine at a restaurant run by a chef accused of domestic assault? If they do that does mean they’re almost excusing Qui’s behavior? The debate produced heated arguments on both sides.
It looks like some foodies can compartmentalize if it means getting to enjoy cured Ikura, chili crab and fried bao. Houston Chronicle food critic Alison Cook still gave Aqui four stars, her highest possible rating.
As of right now, Aqui also has four out of five stars on Yelp, out of 145 reviews. Some call it the best dinner experience they’ve ever had in Houston. Others write that they’re eager to come back. Of the few one-star ratings, there are notes about the service and poor quality of food. There is at least one that references the domestic violence charges.
But diners aren’t the only ones weighing in. Some believe that Qui was snubbed this year when Aqui was notably absent from the long list of the James Beard Awards honorees. New York Times writer Kim Severson notes “Aqui, in Houston, was not put on the best new restaurant list because the chef, Paul Qui, is awaiting trial after a fight that left his girlfriend bloody.”
The charges are dropped, but it remains to be seen if Qui will be forgiven by the dining public. The world of big-time restaurants is changing with top chefs finding the way they once treated people (and young women in particular) is no longer being tolerated or ignored. A number of celebrity chefs, including Mario Batali and John Besh, are embroiled in #MeToo scandals.
Aqui has been divisive from the start. Time will tell if the dismissal of the charges against Paul Qui changes that.