The following post summarizes my observations on the Top Chefs show and contestants’ experiences, views and comments when they were faced with vegetarian and/or vegan, raw food and healthy meals challenges.

Top Chef season 2.

When one team was asked to cook traditional Thanksgiving dinner with a twist, one of the contestants made a green salad with roasted pumpkin.
When the dish was presented to the panel of judges:  head judge Tom  Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi and Anthony Bourdain  were not impressed, to say the least. “He just made a salad?!?” was their reaction to the dish.
After having tasted it Tom Colicchio commented further: “But he didn’t even cook anything”.

When the contestant defended himself by saying that he grilled the pumpkin, Tom ridiculed him.

Obviously, salad seems to be a persona non grata for Tom, even when the meal had other 4 dishes featuring animal protein.

Top Chef season 2.

Contestants were asked to cook for children with numerous health problems, diabetes and obesity, among them. They needed to make an entire meal (entrée, main dish and dessert) and not exceed 500 kcal.

First of all, let me say that just counting calories doesn’t do any good.  So the challenge to me looked shallow and one-sided. Expressions “low-calories meal” and “healthy meal” shouldn’t be used as synonyms without further explanation of what healthy meal actually is.

One team decided to make …pizzas and double-chocolate dessert. Their reasoning? Well, kids love pizza, and we want to win the challenge.

Using white, bleached flour for pizza and artificial sweetener instead of white sugar to cut the calories looked like a total mockery to me.

One of the contestants when having learned that 100ml of olive oil contains almost 900 kcal commented: “I had no idea that olive oil is so heavy on calories. Butter has less calories. I will just use butter instead. Plus it tastes better”.  No comment about such an ignoramus remark.

The judges of the challenge were kids themselves. Sure enough the team that chose to cater for the taste habits of obese children with pizza and double-chocolate desserts was among the favorites, and the team who embraced the challenge intelligently by delivering a meal consisting of whole food ingredients, and preparing a fruit smoothie for a dessert, was booed at.

Did anybody else find that the challenge was ridiculous? Am I being naïve to expect producers of TV shows that, among other things, might educate viewers on a vital issue of nutrition to be more responsible with the content of the show?

Top Chef season 3.
One of the contestants made a raw vegan dish which required marinating some vegetables.
Again Tom was appalled. Because of the lack of animal protein? Or for not actually frying anything? I am not sure, but Tom and Padma’s  little discussion about the dish which is definitely worth repeating:
Tom: “The contestant didn’t cook anything”.
Padma:  “He marinated vegetables”.
Tom: “There is no development of flavors”.
Padma: “Of course there is. What are you talking about?”
Interesting fact on Padma.

“Padma Lakshmi was brought up as a vegetarian and has admitted that because of this, she sometimes becomes “squeamish” when sampling other cultural delicacies. However, in 2009, she starred in a television advertisement created by Mendelsohn Zien Advertising for the Carl’s Jr restaurant chain eating a Western Bacon Cheeseburger. In her second cookbook “Tangy, Tart, Hot and Sweet” she credits the chain with bringing her away from vegetarianism during her teenage years.

Top Chef season 4.

Contestants have been asked to build their menu around main items of the diet of an animal they have been “assigned to”. One team was “stuck” with gorilla.

I think it won’t be farfetched to say that every vegan/vegetarian, at some point,   came across one of the main arguments for the vegan diet stating that it is enough to have a look at a gorilla (which biologically is an ape and is therefore our closest relative from genetic point of view) to realize that vegan diet doesn’t lack in anything, protein among other things, since an adult gorilla male, on average, weights between 140 and 200 kg.

The “unfortunate” team of contestants had to play around the following list of ingredients:  leafy vegetables, root vegetables, corn, all fruits, wheat, soy beans.

However, for some mysterious reason, the team has decided that it will be ok to incorporate some meat into their dishes, to put their spin on vegetarian diet.

HUH? It is either vegetarian or not. It is either vegan or not. Making dishes with meat and calling them a spin on vegetarian diet is ridiculous.

Their menu was:

Lamb and Edamame  Lettuce Cups

Banana Bread

Crab Salad on Celery Root Chips

Black Olive Blinis with Mascarpone

The most shocking part to me was that no judge actually said ANYTHING about the fact that the “Gorilla” menu wasn’t vegan. They just were not happy with the fact that celery chips were not crispy and blinis were not good at all since they were served a day after they have been made and they need to be made to order. That was all they commented! Laughable!

I wonder if contestants had a challenge to cook for individuals with nut allergies and decided, nevertheless, to add nuts to dishes, which could have resulted in potential dangerous health consequences. Would such and innovative “spin” on a nut-free diet have been taken so lightly?

Top Chef season 6.

Contestants were stumbled by vegetarian challenge when a movie star, Natalie Portman, was invited as a guest.

One of the contestants (short, chubby guy, dark hair, glasses) expressed his resentment with the challenge calling vegetarians “lower human beings”.

Another contestant (middle-aged women with short haircut):” I like to cater to vegetarians. They are people too.”   Huh?

To be continued…

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