While awaiting trial on domestic violence charges stemming from a 2016 assault, Chef Paul Qui earned a rare four-star review from Houston Chronicle critic Alison Cook for his Houston restaurant Aqui.
Cook accompanied her glowing review of the restaurant with a separate essay that speaks to her conflict over evaluating the cuisine at Aqui while contending with the violence that Qui admitted to police. The incident to which Cook is referring occurred in 2016, when Qui was arrested on charges of domestic violence for allegedly abusing his girlfriend.
“The account of a drug- and alcohol-fueled fight set forth in a police affidavit wrenched my stomach: blood left on the walls; contusions to the woman; and perhaps worst of all, the presence of her young son as the struggle took place,” Cook writes. “As a woman, and as a survivor of male violence myself — in the form of a sexual assault by a knife-wielding stranger when I was in my twenties— I was horrified. I knew immediately I would never look at Qui in the same way.”
Ultimately, Cook decides that the cuisine at Aqui is worthy of a review because of the talent in the kitchen, namely chef de cuisine Gabriel Medina and pastry chef Jillian Bartolome. Despite her trepidation, Cook praises the restaurant’s yellowfin tuna kinilaw and smoke-cured sea trout. “Still, as I ate my way through my first visit, I was worried as well as exhilarated. Course after course, the food was terrific,” she wrote in the actual review of the restaurant. “The staff fairly vibrated with intelligence and esprit de corps, and together, the front and back of the house resembled the kind of miniature United Nations that perfectly reflects Houston.”
In response to the review, many folks in Houston and beyond expressed the same conflict that Cook shares in her essay. Restaurant critics, including the New York Times’ Pete Wells, praised Cook for her thoughtfulness. Others were less ambiguous, disagreeing with the assertion that the restaurant can (or should) be separated from the chef.
Thank you for the thoughtful (in many respects) review. I experience an internal existential tug-of-war every time I consider dining there.— Josh Powers (@powersjosh) February 5, 2018
Both @alisoncook’s review of Aqui and her essay on the decision to review it are honest, thorough, searching: a defense and an illustration of the critic’s job.— Pete Wells (@pete_wells) February 5, 2018
If you're the kind of asshole who can get past Qui beating his girlfriend because "his food is good", live with that. If you can rationalize him doing that in front of a child, you can go fuck yourself.https://t.co/EkpcvReWpM— Allison Robicelli (@robicellis) February 6, 2018
Prior to the review, Chronicle reporter Greg Morago reported that Qui was set to face the charges in a Travis County court on Monday, but that date has since been postponed to May 1.
In the meantime, the debate over the chef and his restaurants will likely rage on.