"So I realized there are no roads in Venice," Qui said. "The whole time I knew Venice had canals and stuff like that, but I never thought that there wouldn’t be any roads. So taking the taxi to the hotel was pretty cool… [At the hotel] I checked my mise en place and all my ingredients and took a nap."
"Basically I was cooking from 7 a.m. to 10:30 at night," Qui said. For this dinner with 140 guests, Qui prepared a cured mackerel with compressed tomato seeds, tomato dashi, candied olives, and basil (shown right). Ten chefs competed that night, traveling from Australia, Austria, Belgium, China, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates (not counting Qui, from the United States).
"What I remember about that day was getting all these other young chefs from different parts of the world and meeting the chefs," Qui said. "We don’t speak the same language but after a while you get into the rhythm of the kitchen and you got what people were trying to say without speaking their language. That’s the cool thing about kitchens, I think. It’s familiar. It doesn’t matter what part of the world you’re in; when you’re in the kitchen it makes you feel like home."
"I saw some good cuts of beef," Qui said of his time sharing the kitchen with the nine other chefs. "I actually didn’t know that Venice is known for their carpaccio and one of their chefs was making a carpaccio dish. He definitely brought some modernity to his dish [shown right, with a soft-poached egg, onion dressing, dried fennel, and garlic milk]. The chef from Belgium [Yannick Van Aeken from NEDE] brought some seaweed, and we just started talking about seaweed and fermentation."
"I was surprised that they had stuff like cilantro and coriander and different spices, but one of the guys on the sailing team was telling me that Venice is built on spices; it used to be a major trade route between Asia and Europe," Qui said. Spotted at the market: kaffir lime, lemongrass, and plenty of stone fruit like peaches and cherries. "I spent a good hour at the market," Qui said, saying they had to chat with a lot of people to find the right vendor with the best ingredients. "Once we found the right one we definitely got some interesting ingredients, like ovoli mushrooms, which I thought looked like matsutake mushrooms. It’s named after its shape, like an egg."
The aforementioned ovoli mushrooms make an appearance in Qui’s dish (shown right), prepared during the Regatta race: a chawanmushi egg custard, steamed in “prosciutto rind dashi” with langoustines, local peas, and ovoli mushrooms, topped with a peach, coriander, and tomato salsa. “My whole game plan to the competition was basically take something very simple and humble and I was going to base all my dishes based on what I found there,” Qui said. So the prosciutto rind, langoustines, local peas, and mushrooms? All discovered at the Rialto Market earlier in the day.
The highlight of Saturday? "Definitely seeing the opera house. That was pretty amazing," Qui told us. "It felt very surreal. We got dropped off in a weird canal alley and we had to go around the corner, and there was a weird sense of discovery trying to get to the place. I thought that that was really cool, that sense of discovery walking through the narrow streets and turning the corner and seeing this beautiful opera house. Even from the outside it’s a little old, but once you get inside you see how grand it is."
You can almost see Qui going, "Me?" in the photo to the left, where Massimo Bottura awards Qui the Young Chef of the Year award. "I thought it was really cool that Massimo was saying [my dish] was very much Mediterranean food from a different perspective, as opposed to a fusion of things, since all my ingredients were Mediterranean," Qui said. Just another award to add to Qui’s growing trophy collection (already housing a James Beard award for Best Chef Southwest 2013 and the Top Chef season 9 championship).