By Robin Chotzinoff
Photography by Marc Brown
The new apartment is exactly right: a view of downtown from the 19th floor, skulls and antlers on the 10-foot walls, fresh flowers, antique typewriters in the studio. At 32 and 30, respectively, Paul Qui and Deana Saukam are the epitome of Austin hip. In the last year, Paul took time off from his executive chef duties at Uchiko to compete in Bravo’s Top Chef, while Saukam—Qui’s personal manager and publicist as well as his girlfriend—kept his East Side King trailers going and his name in the press.
When he won the show’s ninth season, personal appearance offers flooded in, and the travel began—New York, Las Vegas, Europe and Japan, among others—and sometimes more than once.
During short stops at home, Qui and Saukam worked on adding two East Side King locations and brainstormed ideas for the eponymous Qui, a 50-seat restaurant set to open in spring 2013. Qui resigned from his official job at Uchiko, but continues to do special events there and at Uchi. Somehow the couple found time to get engaged and began planning a wedding. In Iceland. In the summer, when the natural color palette will complement Saukam’s dress, which will be neither white nor predictable, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Meanwhile, there hasn’t been much time to unpack at the apartment, beyond the objets d’art and the kitchen gadgets that Qui collects from supermarkets all over the world. The vacuum cleaner’s still in its box, and though they ordered a dining table, it turned out to be too big for the building’s elevator. But the new bed arrived last week, and when it comes to vegging out there in front of the TV with a home-cooked meal, Qui and Saukam are refreshingly human.
“All these years cooking, I sometimes feel like that’s the only time I get to eat something I cooked myself,” Qui admits. “Since the finale aired, we’ve been traveling nonstop.” Eating that way, too. In Denmark for the MAD2 food symposium, they rode rented bikes between restaurants big and small. “We’ll check out the Michelin-rated places anywhere we are,” Qui says. “It’s great, but there’s only so much you can take. You end up wanting something comforting.” For the couple, back in Austin with just three days between trips, it’s Asian comfort food—a genre big enough to encompass Qui’s Filipino roots and the Cambodian street food Saukam was raised on.
“I’m making chicken adobo,” Qui says. “Tweaking my grandmother’s recipe a little…or a lot, because no one really has a recipe for adobo.”
Yesterday, at the farmers market, they scooped up a “fancy Parisian chicken” from Qui’s buddy Sebastien Bonneu of Countryside Farm, just-picked cherry tomatoes, handfuls of basil and a big slab of jowl bacon, now diced and rendering in a cast-iron pan. “My mom’s mom always cooked with pork fat,” Qui says. “I’d be running by, snacking on little crispy bits.”
Soon, the chicken’s back and neck are sizzling away in jowl fat, on the way to becoming today’s crispy-bit starter—the aroma mixing with garlic, bay leaves, vinegar and ginger. Qui hovers by the stove; Saukam doesn’t.
“I cooked for Paul at first,” she says. “We tried to impress each other. I made him caramelized pork with eggs and fish sauce. But I don’t cook anymore. Would you?”
“I love people to cook for me!” he says. “I’d rather eat than cook. Well…maybe.” In fact, after a few days of being served, he’s usually driven to produce a meal on his own, never mind the logistics. “The new apartment is exactly right: a view of downtown from the 19th floor, skulls and antlers on the 10-foot walls, fresh flowers, antique typewriters in the studio. At 32 and 30, respectively, Paul Qui and Deana Saukam are the epitome of Austin hip.
Compared to that, Qui’s partly unpacked home kitchen is luxurious. And his idea of a vacation from cooking is more cooking. Maybe there’s time to try out a new ice cream recipe before the next transatlantic flight, but for now, it’s all about the adobo, which they end up not eating much of—not yet, anyway. Later, they’ll retreat to that new piece of furniture for adobo round two. “It’s one of those Tempur-Pedic beds where you can sit all the way up to eat.” Saukam says. “When I realized that, I was like, SOLD! I’ll take it!”
PAUL QUI'S BEDROOM ADOBO
1 c. finely diced pork-jowl bacon
1 small whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1 t. rough-cracked black peppercorns
Salt, to taste
1 head garlic, smashed
1 shallot, finely diced
1 c. white vinegar
2 bay leaves
½ c. water
1 T. Red Boat Fish Sauce 50°N
Render the bacon in a medium-size stewing pot on low heat until the pieces are crispy. Remove and reserve the bacon bits. Season the chicken with the black peppercorns and salt. Raise the temperature to medium-high and brown the chicken thighs, legs and wings in the bacon fat until the skin is crispy. Remove from the pot and let rest. Brown the chicken breast, skin side only, until the skin is crispy. Remove from the pot and reserve. Lower the heat and sweat the garlic and shallots in the fat until translucent. Raise the heat and deglaze the pot with the vinegar. Once the liquid has reduced by half, add the chicken (except the breasts), bay leaf, water and fish sauce. Simmer until the meat is just about to fall off the bone, then add the breasts and cook for approximately 4 to 5 minutes, or until the breasts are cooked and tender. Add the bacon bits. The total time should be about 40 minutes. Serve over Ginger Rice, or in warm tortillas.