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The First Take on Paul Qui's New Restaurant Is Predictably Offensive

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CultureMap’s first look at Aqui is the latest in a slew of arguably offensive takes on the chef

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This week, Paul Qui opened his first Houston restaurant in the midst of highly publicized allegations of domestic violence. Now, first looks of Aqui are rolling in, and CultureMap became the latest food media outlet receiving criticism over their coverage of the chef.

In response to a first look of the restaurant by CultureMap’s Eric Sandler (full disclosure: Sandler is the former editor of Eater Houston), a number of online commenters took umbrage with the headline that accompanied the story, which read “Top Austin chef’s new Houston restaurant opens quietly, packs flavorful punch” when it was first published.

Qui is currently facing assault charges in Travis County stemming from a 2016 altercation in which he allegedly assaulted his girlfriend in front of her child. He is due in court on Friday for a pre-trial hearing related to those charges, and considering that the case is still pending, it’s really not surprising that the criticism soon started to roll in.

Check out these examples of the pushback below, most of which came after the story was republished to CultureMap’s Austin site:

Shortly after these tweets started to roll in, CultureMap quietly changed the headline, removing the “packs flavorful punch” and replacing it with “but delivers bold flavors.” Beyond the headline, commenters (as seen in the tweets above) were more incensed by the actual content of the story.

After more than a dozen paragraphs on the restaurant, Sandler finally acknowledges that Qui is facing assault charges toward the end of his first look, but still ultimately concludes that the restaurant’s top-notch dishes and “elegant” dining room make Aqui worth a visit.

Check out this excerpt from the piece below:

Of course, some people will never visit Aqui because of Qui's arrest on assault charges in March of last year. Nothing about Aqui mitigates the seriousness of those allegations or the potential consequences Qui could suffer if he’s convicted. Eater Houston reports he has a pre-trial hearing scheduled for August 18 related to the case.

For everyone else, Aqui’s mix of Thai and Filipino influences with high quality ingredients brings a culinary perspective that sets it apart from any other Houston restaurant I've dined at. The room is elegant and inviting. The staff is friendly, hardworking, and talented. As a place to dine, it is worthy of attention.

CultureMap isn’t the only outlet to stir up controversy with regard to Paul Qui, which begs an important question: How should restaurant reporters and critics handle covering a controversial figure like Qui? Earlier this year, when Austin Chronicle reviewer Melody Fury suggested that Qui’s new restaurant Kuneho could “offer redemption” for the embattled chef, it inspired an equally intense online backlash.

As Eater editor-in-chief Amanda Kludt wrote in her newsletter earlier this week, restaurant journalists have to walk a fine line in balancing coverage of a chef’s culinary accomplishments with what’s going on behind the scenes:

It’s something I think about a lot and grapple with almost daily. Can I ignore the new opening of a chef who called me a bitch? Not if I want to be good at my job — but I’m probably not going to call him up first when I need a quote about some bigger story. Can we ignore the project from a chef who was arrested for assault? Or who got the DUI? Not entirely, but if we have a limited number of slots in a national openings package, we might think twice before giving them one — and we can link back to the arrest news whenever appropriate.”

Neither Qui nor Sandler have publicly responded to the controversy. Eater will update this post as more details become available.

Update, 8/18 10:59 a.m.: This story previously referred to the child present during Qui’s alleged assault as “their child.” It has since been updated to reflect that the child is Qui’s girlfriend’s son.

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