Aqui Gets a Chef

Award-winning Austin chef taps two rising stars for eagerly-awaited Houston restaurant

Award-winning Austin chef taps rising stars for new Houston restaurant

Paul Qui Aqui Exterior
Aqui will open this summer. Photo by Eric Sandler

Paul Qui, the James Beard Award-winning Austin-based chef, has made two major hires for Aqui, his restaurant that will open in Montrose this summer. As he did when he announced his involvement with the project, Qui teased the hires on Instagram, posting this photo Monday night:


team @eataquihouston menu workshop :)

A post shared by paul qui (@pqui) on

Apr 24, 2017 at 5:28pm PDT

The two chefs seen in the picture, Gabriel Medina and Niki Vongthong, will serve as Aqui's chef de cuisine and sous chef, according to a restaurant industry source. The two chefs are working with Qui to develop a menu that will focus on "wood and wok cooking with a heavy emphasis on meats and seafood," as well as a raw bar, according to a statement the chef provided to the Houston Chronicle.  

Medina's name will likely be familiar to diners. Prior to his current role as the executive chef at Bosta Kitchen in the Museum District, Medina served as chef de cuisine at Kata Robata and executive chef at Soma Sushi, where he developed several acclaimed bowls of ramen. After leaving Soma in 2015, Medina spent a year at Tokyo's famous Narisawa restaurant, which is currently ranked 18th in world by the prestigious World's 50 Best list.

In addition to his impressive resume, Medina's Filipino heritage also makes him a fit for Aqui. An image that Qui posted of a possible Aqui tasting menu included a number of Filipino dishes.

Vongthong has less of a public profile, but she comes to Aqui after working as a sous chef at Uchi Houston and has also hosted pop-ups at both Glitter Karaoke and Wooster's Garden where she served Thai-style boat noodles. Her current job ties her to Qui's professional history. Qui first rose to prominence when he won a season of Top Chef during his time as the chef de cuisine at Uchiko.

CultureMap contacted Qui's representatives for more information about his decision to hire Medina and Vongthong but has yet to receive a reply. Medina politely declined to comment on his new role.

Even a year after his arrest on assault charges, Qui remains a controversial figure. A review in the Austin Chronicle that suggested Qui had "redeemed" himself through the high quality food served at Kuneho, the restaurant that replaced Qui, drew strong criticism on social media. Whether Qui's past will influence Houstonians' decision to dine there remains to be seen, but hiring two accomplished chefs for Aqui certainly puts the project on a strong culinary footing.