Today the James Beard Foundation announced the 2018 list of James Beard Award semifinalists and chef Paul Qui’s much-lauded Aqui is conspicuously absent. Although the Foundation didn’t explicitly state its reasoning for excluding Aqui, his pending trial on domestic violence charges is probably the cause.
After earning a rare four-star review from Chronicle critic Alison Cook and inspiring countless debates among Houston diners, Aqui’s absence from the Best New Restaurants category is likely a surprise to some. Qui is already a James Beard winner — he took home the trophy for Best Chef: Southwest in 2012 — and his first foray into Houston has been met with a great deal of acclaim.
Of course, Qui has also been met with a great deal of criticism, and it appears that the James Beard voters have made a deliberate choice in excluding Qui from this year’s Awards. As Eater reported earlier this year, the James Beard Foundation asked its voters to take the conduct of chefs into account when evaluating their restaurants. “If you have concerns about a chef, restaurateur or beverage professional, or about the culture around a restaurant or restaurant group, leave the person or business out of your nominations,” committee members wrote in an email sent to judges.
In a New York Times story titled “James Beard Awards Apply a New Yardstick: Good Behavior,” Kim Severson notes that Aqui “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.” Those charges stem from a 2016 altercation in which Qui reportedly beat his girlfriend in front of her child.
But in an interesting twist, Aqui’s pastry chef Jillian Bartolome earned a nod in the Outstanding Pastry Chef category, joining 10 other Houston chefs, restaurants, and restaurateurs in this year’s stacked field of candidates from Space City.
The Times also reports that while the Foundation will not take away previously won medals from those accused of misconduct, “past winners who have faced public charges of sexual harassment or abuse have been barred from voting from now on.” That likely includes Qui. Eater critic and James Beard Awards restaurant committee chair Bill Addison told Severson, “When creating the semifinalist list, the committee certainly took to heart this moment of reckoning in the restaurant industry.”
Paul Qui is scheduled to face pending charges in court on May 1, six days before this year’s James Beard Awards winners will be presented at a ceremony in Chicago.