In an emotional and candid conversation with 600 high school culinary arts students from Central Texas high schools, James Beard award-winning chef Paul Qui of Qui and East Side King admitted that he makes mistakes every day. “It is okay to fail because failing is part of learning. As long as you can get up and push forward, then it is okay.”
The keynote was part of a one-day Culinary Arts Career Conference hosted by the Austin Food & Wine Alliance, a local nonprofit focused on promoting culinary innovation and education, gave the students the opportunity to interact with chefs, food artisans and culinary professionals through panel discussions, demonstrations and culinary expo.
The day started with an address from Qui who shared his personal story of struggling through high school, failing out of college and being lost and “clueless” until he attended culinary school at the Texas Culinary Academy, now Le Cordon Bleu.
“I always felt like a failure growing up,” Qui said, “but being able to do something with my hands and do it really well, means a lot to me. Cooking has never felt like work for me. Even when I’m tired and have had no sleep, it always feels satisfying.”
Qui encouraged the students to be willing to start at the bottom and work their way up like he did at Uchi, working for free until there was a place for him on the line. He also urged them to cook with passion and listen to their critics.
“You are never going to make everybody happy. You have to cook with your heart and put passion into it, but flavor is subjective,” said Qui. “People like what they like. You have to get over it. I embrace people who hate me.”
In a humble aside, Qui recounted that the learning never really ends. “Every chef in the city cooks something better than me. As long as you acknowledge that, you can learn from them and then you can make your food better.”
Closing out the address, Qui stressed the importance of mentoring in the culinary community. “You want everyone to be as good as you or better,” said Qui. “When I bring in new chefs, I want them to top what I do tomorrow. That is always my goal.”