Congratulations to Paul Qui for winning Top Chef: Texas! The Uchiko chef is not the first Asian American chef to take the highest honors of the Bravo reality show (I think that title goes to Hung) but he IS the first Filipino American Top Chef in one of the most nail-biting seasons I’ve ever seen. He’s also still my new boyfriend.
No, seriously. This 9th season was probably the most nerve wracking competition around, especially with such a strong Asian American presence on the show. Beverly Kim was not only eliminated once but also dominated the Last Chance Kitchen spin-off to get back into the competition and into the finals. Edward Lee was pretty close to making it to the Vancouver rounds and even Nyesha Arrington was knocking people down left and right on Last Chance until Kim showed up. Meanwhile, Paul won challenge after challenge. My brain almost exploded at the thought that this could have been the first Top Chef season where only Asian American chefs competed against each other. Could you imagine? It probably would have the spotlight off of Jeremy Lin for once. (Yeah right.)
In the season finale, Paul wowed the judges with an Asian inspired menu featuring chawanmushi (OMG TOTALLY MY FAVORITE JAPANESE FOOD EVARRR #soulmate), grilled sea bass with dashi, congee and coconut ice cream. I’m sure some people will be disappointed that he decided to go the Asian route, but I’m okay with Asian American chefs focusing on our cultural cuisine. Food is such an integral part of our identity that I appreciate chefs like Edward, Beverly and Paul cooking food with their ethnic twist. And it was pretty awesome watching a winning menu featuring Asian food unfold on TV. I had never expected to see a dish that my grandmother would often prepare for me be eaten and critiqued by Padma and Tom. (Side note: remember the last time they attempted to make dim sum on Top Chef? Yeah, that didn’t end well.)
Also, I have a confession to make. This finale was ALMOST going to be the second time I cried over a TV show. The first time, tears streamed down my face as I watched that last scene between Sun and Jin on LOST and this time, I was holding onto my Gizmo pillow, ready to cry again if they had named Sarah the winner. Thankfully, they didn’t but I did sort of tear up seeing this photo.
With Paul’s win, perhaps the overall perspective of fine dining will finally include more respect towards Asian food? I hope so. If anything, Paul’s new title highlights a huge win for Asian American cuisine, as well as our community’s ability to win at least one kind of reality TV competition. At least, until Heejun Han wins American Idol and at least one Asian girl gets on The Bachelor. But until then, yay for Paul!