As an art major in college, I was waiting tables to make money, then started selling drugs before I realized I was a bad drug dealer. I woke up one morning and there was dog shit all over the floor; people that I didn't know were passed out in my house. I started wondering, What am I going to do with my life?Back then, Austin had the shortest and cheapest culinary program, so I decided to move there with a friend who was a DJ. I was so broke. A buddy of mine said, "I can't really help you out with cash," but he gave me 500 pills of Xanax. That was my start-up fund.
I was so broke. A buddy of mine said, 'I can't really help you out with cash,' but he gave me 500 pills of Xanax. That was my start-up fund.
I was already going to open my own restaurant when I went on Top Chef. I had the investors for this place, but it launched me in a different direction and meant that people who would not otherwise know me would know who I am. It made a huge difference. As for watching those kind of foodie shows, I can't—it gives me anxiety. At 1 AM when I get home, I don't want to get stressed out over somebody else's kitchen.I still don't know what my food is. I'm learning just as much from every one of my cooks as I am from myself. Japanese food drew me because of the aesthetic, and the pursuit of perfection. I look at chefs I admire, and chefs I work with, and like to think we create a situation where we can provoke some new ideas. Normally people build a menu, then build a kitchen around that menu, and a restaurant around that kitchen. Here at Qui, I wanted a blank canvas. There's a bit of Texas in there, a bit of me, and a bit of my chefs.
As for watching Top Chef, I can't—it gives me anxiety. At 1 AM when I get home, I don't want to get stressed out over somebody else's kitchen.
For years, I stayed away from Filipino food. And for a long time, I didn't cook dinuguan, a pork blood stew, because everyone's grandma's stew tasted better than mine. But then one of my farmers brought me some warm pig blood and I wanted to do something with it. Some people are scared of it; but if you cook it right, its creamy and it doesn't taste iron-y at all.I learn a lot from trial and error. I have made some things that were not good enough to put on a plate. It usually happens when I start experimenting with a new ingredient that I don't know how to cook—peculiar parts of fish, or offal—but for me it's all about the experimentation.I'm 34 now, but I don't really know about getting to the top. The food scene is so pretentious; Michelin stars, all that stuff. What does it matter, as long as I'm passionate about what I cook and what I eat? You are not going to make everybody happy all the time.My mom is definitely more proud of me now than she's ever been, though I don't know if she likes what I cook. I know my dad doesn't. He'd rather have a steak with french fries or something.As told to Laura Dixon
What does it matter, as long as I'm passionate about what I cook and what I eat? You are not going to make everybody happy all the time.