Back in March of this year, not long after news broke that celebrity chef Paul Qui had been arrested for assaulting his girlfriend and endangering her child, Dan Solomon wrote a piece in Texas Monthly confronting the narrative that emerges around abuse and abusers, arguing in its headline that “How we talk about Paul Qui’s arrest reflects how seriously we take domestic violence.” It’s a smart, frank editorial that pleas for better awareness of domestic violence issues and its treatment in media, containing what now seems like a depressingly prophetic line: “It’ll be unfortunate if the reporting on Qui and this incident treats his arrest on domestic violence charges as just another unfortunate thing that happens in the restaurant business.” Last week, the Austin American-Statesman ran an exclusive profile of Paul Qui, giving the chef ample room to write his own redemption arc, centered around the pressures of the restaurant business, largely rewriting the assault as merely an arrest– or in other words, an unfortunate thing that happens in the restaurant business.
Solomon’s warning not only went unheeded, it is now very close to being erased altogether as Austinites attempt to brush off Qui’s violent, abusive behavior and focus on how he will move forward. You can see this in the way headlines and comments are careful to only say Qui is moving on from a vague “arrest” rather than “assault and unlawlful restraint of his girlfriend and her young child.” You can see it in the pleas for acceptance of a man just trying to overcome addiction. More importantly, you can see it in the way food culture entities like Eater honed in on the Statesman’s reveal that Qui’s namesake restaurant would be closing and rebranding and have begun the process of making this fact the most newsworthy tidbit:
Paul Qui is essentially food service royalty in Austin and his status in the scene is also connected to many of the hedonistic elements of Austin that make it such a lure to young creatives. Many of us who do creative work in the city either currently work or have previously worked in food service and know all too well about the long hours and high pressure and the ways chefs in particular deal with that. So it’s easy to buy into this narrative of Qui as a victim of his profession; we like redemptive arcs where our heroes fall hard and are forced to, in the Statesman’s words, “start from scratch” and learn from their mistakes. But why do we struggle to acknowledge Qui’s victims and their struggles? Why is it more important to fixate on how a rich celebrity chef must overcome challenges he is at least partially complicit in causing for himself while his innocent victims are erased altogether?
In 2014, the Huffington Post called domestic violence an “epidemic” in America, rounding up 30 of the most horrifying statistics about the problem. Among those statistics was the fact that 8,000,000 days of paid work are lost by women who are victims of abuse, the equivalent of 32,000 jobs. Paul Qui has chosen of his own volition to close Qui and turn it into a new concept, something that has been presented as a sacrifice by the chef, a form of penance for what he’s done. But it’s important to keep in mind that there is no indication in any of the current reporting on Paul Qui that he has faced any major economic setbacks as a result of his arrest; the only impact thus far appears to be the rebranding of Qui, which, again, is something Qui elected to do. We also do not know what impact Qui’s assault had on his girlfriend and her child but given the statistics of domestic violence, it seems unlikely that there was no impact but asking this distracts from the redemptive arc of Paul Qui, just as asking what psychological impact the child he threatened has endured works against that.
What we do know is that Paul Qui’s victims, like so many victims before them, opted to sign an affidavit of non-prosecution in April (though the original arrest affidavit offers a pretty clear picture of the assault that happened that night in March). And who can blame them? Regardless of what they had to endure and what impact it has on their future, entities like the Statesman are eager to help spin Qui’s story as one of hitting rock bottom, of rising too high too fast and then needing to rise again from an inevitable fall. If as Dan Solomon stated how we talk about Paul Qui’s arrest determines how seriously we take domestic violence, then this forced narrative of redemption proves that we simply do not care about the victims of assault, only that their abusers say the right things and make the right gestures so we can go back to pretending like this epidemic does not exist.
Qui’s statements to the Statesman about this incident are reflective of this, always carefully avoiding the use of words like “abuse” or “assault” or “violence,” instead speaking in vague terms that always center the story back on him. “I’m sorry every day of my life that this happened,” Qui says at one point, as though he is the one this happened to rather than the instigator of violence. Even when Qui does use a term like violence, the action itself appears indirect: “It still showed violence in front of a kid and a woman” rather than “to a kid and a woman.” Earlier, Qui states “I feel like people should believe what they want to believe. But I guarantee this will never happen again,” once again carefully avoiding confronting his actions.
As a culture, we seem eager to take abusers like Qui at their word that they are seeking redemption, regardless of how sincere they are or aren’t about this. We are happy to speak their coded language, to accept that domestic violence is a thing that “happens” rather than a conscious decision by a human. We do not confront abusers when they can’t even give their victims the courtesy of apologizing directly to them in public statements rather than being sorry that violence happened, like it’s some inexplicable natural occurence. Victims of abuse often go out of their way to protect their abusers; they are guilted into believing that they must protect the reputations of those who harm them. In private homes, with people who are not in the public eye, this is an issue, but it’s compounded further when the public itself is eager to encourage the victims to think of these abusers’ reputations. Think of the jobs that could be lost if Qui’s restaurants went under, a commenter will say. Why can’t we just move on, another will ask. What more do you want him to do, ask too many voices.
The truth is that we are complicit in this, we enable abusers and then when they go that extra step and murder their victims, we act as though nothing could be done, it was just one of those things. Dan Solomon’s piece tried to optimistically engage with this problem as it relates to Paul Qui. Solomon hoped that we would be better about how we talk about domestic violence, that as a community we would realize that we owe victims more and that by helping their abusers be redeemed in the public eye we were only guaranteeing there would be more victims. We have failed Paul Qui’s victims and we have failed ourselves by not speaking seriously about his behavior, and by encouraging efforts to allow him to redeem himself through insincere gestures that absolve him of blame and redirect the attention on other issues, like substance abuse and the hedonistic nature of the food service industry. How will we behave next time Paul Qui or someone else abuses their loved ones?
Update 08/22/16: a scan of the arrest affidavit with the victim’s name blocked out was made available to us and has been added to this piece
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover