This isn’t easy for either of us. I just want to write about delicious food and where to find it; you just want to enjoy a lucrative public career without the media reminding diners that you allegedly once got high and slammed a woman into the wall in front of her child.
(Police responded to a disturbance call at Qui's East Austin home in March 2016, the Austin-American Statesman reported, and found the chef bloody and his home in disarray, blood smeared on the walls. He was arrested and charged with assault and unlawful restraint. The charges were dropped in April because Qui's girlfriend "declined to cooperate.")
But I’ve been waiting for one of your friends to pull you aside and talk to you about how badly your comeback is going, and it looks like your friends aren’t cutting it. So the job falls to me, a random food critic you’ve never met. Hey, you need to hear this from someone.
I know you’re trying to rebuild a life you wrecked with drugs and alcohol and violence. Does it feel like the rebuild is foundering? Because you seem to be missing an important piece.
Since the arrest, you’ve opened two new restaurants. The Houston one is named after you: Aqui. The Dallas restaurant, a fast-casual joint in suburban Richardson, is also named after you: TacQui. It even features ceviches, ahem, tacquiviches, into which your name is inserted.
When a Dallas Morning News reporter interviewed you at TacQui, you told her things like, “I’m not discounting what had happened, but every time my name comes up, it’s negative.” And, “I can’t change the past. I can’t. All I can do is make sure people see me right in the future, and that’s what important to me.”
Here’s the problem: It’s not about your name. It’s not about how people see you. Part of you allegedly did something very bad. I don’t know how big a part of you that badness is and what you’re doing to fix it, but that’s what’s supposed to be important. And right now, the rest of you sure as hell sounds defensive.
Listen, I get it. We’re all born thinking we’re the most important people in our own lives. We all look out for No. 1. But at some point before becoming adults, most of us learn that there are other people and causes to look out for, too. Private healing and rehabilitation are good, and I assume you are following those paths. Maybe you have also tried to make private amends with people in your life. But you are a public figure. You did your worst thing in public.
It’s not just one woman and her child that you hurt when you allegedly took cocaine, Xanax, marijuana and alcohol; became enraged; and started throwing a loved one into a wall. You hurt all the employees of your restaurants. You hurt the young talent you were supposed to help nurture. You hurt diners who trusted you, Filipino-Americans who saw you as a role model, Texans who saw you as a point of statewide pride, fellow addicts who might have looked to you as an example of how to overcome the odds.
As a public leader, you have obligations beyond your career. You have obligations to many people, even strangers. You need to own that. If you don’t want to own those responsibilities, quit the restaurant business and get a new job cutting lumber at Home Depot.
You seemed to understand that when you talked to the Austin American-Statesman in 2016: “I own it. It still showed violence in front of a kid and a woman, and it’s not OK. ... All I can be is be myself and do the best that I can and make sure that I can make things right and make amends to them.”
But now you’re telling the Morning News things like, “Just maybe one day I can cook for people again.” And, “Every time my name comes up, it’s negative.” And, “All I can do is make sure people see me right in the future.”
Do you see the pattern there? I. Me. Myself. My name. Rehabilitation is not about your name or your image. It’s about taking the mean and violent and addiction-prone in you and replacing it with something good. That should be your focus. That should be what you talk about, what you model for the fans and employees and colleagues whom you hurt.
Maybe you’re being modest and you don’t want to tell the world about your private growth. Except, come on, dude. Let’s be real. Aqui. TacQui. Tacquiviche. You’re not modest. You’re not.
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None of us knows what is truly in your heart. The only evidence we have is what you say in public. Honestly, in the eyes of disillusioned fans and the general public, it would take a hell of a lot of secret good deeds to cancel out your public whining that you just want to be able to see your name on the front of buildings again.
I don’t know you. I don’t know if people should forgive or like you. Maybe, maybe not. But — and I say this with genuine desire to help you see your way forward — people won’t forgive or like you until you realize that being forgiven and liked is a bad priority. Turning yourself outward to see the effects of your words and actions is important. Helping women is important. You will not be fully healed until you realize that healing is more than a means to get your career back in order. That’s harsh because it’s true.
The bottom line is that you have a long road ahead. You need to do more than say sorry in an interview before you can start opening more restaurants with your name plastered across the doors. I sincerely hope you achieve your goals, for the sake of those who looked up to you and for the sake of the women and children in your personal life. But your comeback is going to fail unless you realize that caring for the needs of others more than you care for your own, and modeling that behavior as a public leader, are a whole lot more important than making strip-mall fusion tacos.