Paul Qui has a lot on his plate. Still in the spotlight from winning Top Chef season nine, he has a veritable empire in Austin where he has the always-evolving Qui, a fleet of East Side King trucks plus a brick and mortar, not to mention his Thai Kun truck, with a brick and mortar in the works. Eater had the chance to catch up with Qui at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen where he revealed the details of two additional upcoming projects: the highly anticipated Otoko in Austin and a newly announced restaurant in Miami, his first outside of Austin.
Joining Qui behind the 12-seat bar at Otoko is Yoshi Okai, a longtime lieutenant in Qui's restaurant group. The two worked together at Austin's trailblazing sushi restaurant Uchi, and together opened Uchiko. "I've known this guy for 10 years," says Qui of Okai. "He trained me to make sushi in the beginning." Where those restaurants lean experimental, Qui says Otoko will be more on the traditional end of the sushi spectrum. "It's going to be a lot purer than the other places, than Uchi or Uchiko in a sense, just because we're going to have a lot more control over the nigiri that goes out — we don't have to make hundreds of them a day. We're only making 24 of each piece," Qui explains. "We're going to really pull from very classical sushi pieces in nigiri and very classical methods of making sushi, but at the same time, we are using ingredients that are available to us."
As previously reported, the menu will be an omakase with a mix of sushi and composed cooked courses for a kaiseki experience. Qui recently travelled through Japan, which certainly has inspired his thinking on Otoko, but for now he says "we're pulling deep from within ourselves for Otoko, for sure." Qui will be previewing dishes from Otoko at the Chef's Club in New York City in July.
Qui's keeping the details of the Miami project, a restaurant at the Faena Hotel Miami Beach, a bit closer to the vest. He's excited about working with live-fire cooking legend Francis Mallman and says that open-fire cooking is definitely going to happen. "There's a giant open kitchen that has open fires," says Qui of his Miami space. While he hasn't done that kind of cooking in a restaurant before he says, "Filipino food's a lot about wood cooking from the bibingkas in the streets to the barbecues, but at the same time, I'm from Texas. I cook in Texas, so I cook with a lot of open fires and smoke." When it comes to the menu, Qui says there will definitely be seafood (not only is Miami on the water but "a big part of my cooking is seafood") and that he's looking forward to working with his fellow chefs Mallman and Gabriel Ask. "The Miami project's going to be a lot of fun, because I get to collaborate with chefs that I normally wouldn't come across to help create that menu."
Qui's decision to expand to Miami might have been something of a surprise, but he sees some similarities with Austin. "I think it's starting to cultivate itself as a food scene," he says of Miami. "I hate to use those terms, but I feel like [it's] how Austin was before." He goes on: "I think Miami's going to have to start off ground like that and we're going to have to build up a foundation. I know there's a lot of celebrity chefs in that city, and at the same time, the climate of that city is changing quite a bit, at least culturally. That's part of the main reason why I wanted to join with Alan [Faena], because he said he doesn't want to open Vegas in Miami. He wants to have something that'll resonate culturally at least."