Eavesdrop on a group of St. Louis chefs, and pretty soon his name will come up. First name only, because everybody knows Qui Tran, or wants to. Besides, the name’s fun to say: that clicky hard K, then a pucker (a whistle? a kiss?) and an exuberant “whee.” All in just three letters. They spell a world, drawing you inside.
You’re welcomed with such warmth, you forget how cool Qui is. Heir to the legendary Mai Lee (tucked behind the Best Buy box on the craziness that is Eager Road), Qui added Nudo House in 2017, shifting from Vietnamese and Chinese into Japanese ramen (but keeping banh mi and pho and sneaking in a curry). In less than a year, the place made the cover of Food & Wine. This spring, he’ll open the second Nudo House, in the east Loop next to The Pageant.
The rest of Qui’s energy goes to mixed martial arts, good causes, the cigar club at The Ritz-Carlton, his wife, his parents and sisters, about a thousand friends, and a miniature pinscher named Snow Pea, in whatever order is required of him at the moment. But the organizing principle is food. He soaks up ideas from every chef he meets, and when he cooks, he’s a whirl of concentrated energy.
“I’ve called a few people ‘the straw that stirs the drink’ here in St. Louis,” says his friend Mike Emerson, co-founder of Pappy’s, “but Qui is more like the high-speed blender. He’s putting in 80, 90 hours a week, but you’ll see him at every possible charity event to support the city.”