Gail Simmons

Gail Simmons wonders why the chefs had so much trouble with this challenge given their resources.

on Oct 28, 20090

A little known fact: I was a pesco-vegetarian (pescetarian) for over eight years. Hard to believe, considering what I’ve chosen to do for a living. But between ages 14 and 22, I would not touch, cook, or eat meat at all. It just did not agree with me. I found it difficult to digest (both literally and ethically). I did eat fish and seafood, but I will never forget how frustrating it was to skip over three-quarters of the menu at most restaurants to find something I could order. Even when I did find an appropriate dish, it would usually be less satisfying than what my fellow diners were eating, more like a collection of garnishes on a plate than an actual meal. Thankfully, respect and options for vegetarians have come a long way since then. Just look at the fully vegetable-based menus at award-winning restaurants such as Gramercy Tavern or Per Se in New York. But I still pay close attention to vegetarian dishes when I eat out and am always curious as to how both fine-dining and casual places alike treat their meat-avoiding customers. My basic question: Why can’t we find a decent vegetarian meal in many restaurants today, considering that cultures around the world can create complex, substantial cuisines using little or no meat, and in view of the extraordinary bounty of produce, grains, legumes and dairy products available in America?  

That was at the heart of the questions we posed to our cheftestants on this week’s episode. The setting: an intimate dinner we hosted for actress Natalie Portman and her friends at Tom’s Craftsteak at the MGM Grand. Natalie is a passionate food-lover and committed vegetarian—and one of the show’s biggest fans—so we re-created a scenario that regularly occurs in most restaurant dining rooms: a demand for one superlative vegetarian dish that tastes and looks as delicious as anything else on offer. Tom was quick to mention that even at his meat-focused emporium he believes strongly in respecting customer preferences and strives to make sure there are always a great variety of non-meat choices on hand at all times. His kitchen walk-ins were overflowing with every variety of produce one could imagine. And his pantry was stocked with more dry goods than could be used in a lifetime. So it should not have been an excruciating task for our remaining seven competitors to fulfill, right?

Well, perhaps our chefs could not recover from the surprise we threw at them having assumed that, in this venue, they would be butchering and serving sides of beef and racks of lamb. Or perhaps they were all distracted by Natalie’s natural charm (it is hard not to be, in all honesty). Whatever the reason, the dishes they presented that evening were, for me, among the most disappointing of the season. It is not that they were all poorly cooked, necessarily. They were just so much less imaginative than I had hoped for and expected. With the exception of the delicate lentils under Eli’s Confit of Eggplant, Garlic Puree & Radish Salad, and the scant garbanzo beans, which did not even make it onto everyone’s plate in Robin’s Stuffed Squash Blossom with Beet Carpaccio & (overly salted, garlicky) Chermoula, there was virtually no protein presented across the board. No beans or legumes, few eggs and little dairy were used (despite their being encouraged to do so). In addition, Michael’s Asparagus Salad, Japanese Tomato Sashimi & Banana Polenta was the only dish that used a grain (yes, corn, from which polenta is made, is technically a grain).

75 comments
Jeremy DuBrul
Jeremy DuBrul

When dealing with vegetarians at -most- restaurants (at least here in Chicago)... you deal with a few things: lack of imagination, bad timing and outright snobbery.

Oh... and the Chef's fragile ego. And the fact that; in the Heartland... We like things to die for our meals.

Currently work at a -steak focused- eatery. Have worked at 2-3+star restaurants and it does blow me away as to... how unaccomodating many of the restaurants I have worked at, as well as... where I do work at, can be.

We try... Usually comes at a horrible time though, requesting a Vegetarian dinner. Like 8p on a Sat night. I'm the epitome of NOT being a vegetarian. Generally do prefer that something die for my dinner.

BUT... I have myself cooked veegetarian for fiends (even taking on an entirely vegetarian 5 course meal for friends). With a rather small touch of imagination... things CAN be done.

Look, if I can make Bolognese Ragu ENTIRELY out of mushroom duxelle and a roasted veg stock with a bit of Almond Milk, and make a Lasagne Bolognese with organic Goat's Milk (that was cool) cheese made without rennet and use thin layers of zucchini for noodles...

I am NOT saying I can stand up to a quickfire.

Most of the chef's I've worked for, I think would crumple in a few shows. Current one, I think can stay the course... But then again... our vegetarian options are a bit uninspired as well.

Just like the Military; a restaurant has not too many excuses for having a Standard Operating Procedure for a few vegetarian (or even pesc-etarian) options. And not being an unjoined collection of random sides.

I thing that, in accepting that we are not in India and that the US at least is a very much MEAT or something MUST DIE for our dinner... Both vegetarians (and the ones making reservations) as well as chefs/ owners DO nned to meet in the middle.

ANYONE with special dietary restriction; be it a vegetarian (and don't suprize a restaurant with being a 4th level macrobiotic who doesn't eat anything that casts a shadow) or a serious food allergy... CALL FIRST! Insist upon speaking to the chef (don't matter whom the dude is... Ask for Wolfgang Puck (if it's Wolfie's place)damnit!) and speak to them about dietary restrictions (and... not at 5p on a Sat night, 2hrs before your reso). Give a shot to the idea that we just MIGHT have to put something together entirely special and possibly out of our prep.

Try something like... 24hr notice? Work with us and we will work with you.

Chefs and owners... be cool about it when these customers call you. Be accomodating. Be CREATIVE!

If Natalie wold ever care to have Mushroom Bolognese, enirely vegetarian... I'm more than happy to make it for you!

TCindy
TCindy

I still don't understand how Jen's was "little more than a garnish"? Was it really about portion size, as others looked like far less food? Or was it about complexity? I just don't understand that particular criticism.

TracyAnnJ
TracyAnnJ

How is Kale inventive Natalie....really?

TracyAnnJ
TracyAnnJ

Hey Gail, I've never commented on the blog of a reality show, but I love Top Chef. I was very surprised that Kevin won this challenge. I keep thinking about what Michael V. said. He put so much thought and work into his dish, including presentation, and Kevin's "looked" awful. I'm sure I just don't understand the nuances of the flavors which were happening in the mouth, as Tom said, but I have to say, I think Michael got the short end of the spatula on that one. Kevin's seemed too simple and too boring....which is never what we get from the "V" brothers. Just my opinion. Thanks.

kkm
kkm

You must love your job. I love different types of food and would love to be able to sample food while telling the person who cooked it how to make it better or if it was a dish that I would die for. How did you get such a great job?

Monica
Monica

After viewing this episode I wondered if Natalie is vegan. If not, why in the world wouldn't the chefs use cheese, lentils, beans - anything that would fill you up for more than 2 seconds.

I loved seeing them tackle something that truly challenged them. Thanks for bringing this issue to everyone's attention!

cjosie
cjosie

I grew up in SC, USA.. I never met a veggie I do not like. In fact, I would rather eat veggies with a variety of mushroom than some heavy, fatty, over-fried, or just as non-tasty undercook meat.

Don't get me wrong, I do eat meat, but gotta have my veggies and not those pretend things in the frozen food section.

Kevin won my heart with the 'shrooms and greens.. what a classic southern delight!

mexocelotl
mexocelotl

i am always extremely disappointed with the lack of variety in most restaurants when it comes to vegetable side dishes, so i can't imagine they'd do much better creating an entire meat-less meal. i would love to go to a normal restaurant, without having to spend $100+ for the meal, and get quality, flavorful veggies-not the usual standard of "seasonal" veggies, which almost always translates to bland mix of zucchini, squash, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, peas, and/or potatoes!

please share the name of the robato you went to in las vegas!!! i am traveling to las vegas for the first time in december and am looking for decent places to eat that don't include bloated buffet lines or require million-dollar bank accounts. thanks!!!

Cooking with Love
Cooking with Love

After watching that episode, I felt like anyone eating the type of food the chefs served would walk away weak, disappointed, and HUNGRY! I couldn't believe that someone won for doing a mushroom and kale dish (and the kind of kale chosen is not even that good). I have cooked for friends and colleagues, groups small and large, some as large as 50 people by myself (with some random people feeling helpful and coming in to chop vegetables, etc). Maybe they were always being nice to me, but out of these different groups of mostly non-vegetarians, I never once had someone tell me that they miss the meat from these meals. I am an amateur, and even I can be more creative than these chefs, who should be ashamed that they have no creativity when given a real challenge which actually takes them out of their usualy meat-centric comfort zone. What do I make that satisfies everyone, regardless of whether they are veg or meat eaters? Here are some examples of simple things that one can make at home for friends and family that is filling and vegetarian (just take out the meat, fish, and I don't eat eggs either): sweet and sour soup using pineapple, tomatoes, sprouts, thai basil, and okra if you like it; baked tofu with a peanut sauce using peanut butter, scallions, garlic, sesame seeds and sesame oil, sugar, and mix it with water, soak tofu in mix, bake for about 15 minutes; veggie lasagna by sauteeing all veggies in olive oil, each separately, seasoning to taste, and using fresh veggies such as bell peppers, spinach, mushrooms, zucchini, and any of your favorite veggies and season with Italian herbs and seasonings; burritos with all your favorite ingredients again sauteed first such as sauteed potato and tomatoes, onions, avacado (and/or home made guacamole mix), etc favorite veggies freshly cut, your favorite lentils seasoned, seasoned rice, and salsa; spring rolls stuffed with sauteed thinly sliced carrots, jicama (for crunch), and mushroom mix which could include oyster mushrooms, shitake, and wood ear mushrooms, rolled with lettuce, sprouts, mint and other Asian herbs served with a peanut chili dip or a dip with a touch of soysauce, lemon, vinegar, sugar, garlic, Asian chili sauce and sometimes I will add fake "shrimp" which is available at Asian markets; Vietnamese crepes with flour batter (I add a touch of curry and season to taste) mung bean, sprouts, thinly shredded sauteed veggies such as carrots, jicama, fav. mushrooms, and fake shrimp, baked or fried thinly sliced tofu, or other favorite fake meat; sweet and sour candied seitan orange "chicken" using real oranges and sauteeing with sugar over higher heat until sugar coats the seitan and is "candied"; tonight I just made a pasta salad dish with bowtie pasta, heirloom tomatoes, peppers and basil from our garden, with fresh mozarella, fresh parmesan, italian parsley, apple cidar vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and the ingredients I use for all the dishes: Love, fresh, organic produce. Other ideas that will leave meat eaters saying not saying anything but "delicious" (not I miss the meat, or how come everything looks green--people actually said that when someone else cooked for one of the groups because I wanted to enjoy myself for one night) are: taco parties sans the meat with corn tacos fried and used as tostadas using fake meat "beef", avocados, beans (black or pinto) home made or store bought fresh salsa, home made guacamole, fresh tomatoes, onions, cheeses,flavored rice, and anything else you want that makes sense! I also think fried sweet potato fries are great, though I know the baked ones are good also. My husband likes salt and pepper fried tofu (delicious) and I make sushi at home too using tempura for the crunch and just rolling up anything good and available at home. I am not a gourmet cook, but I think chefs need people like me to help them think more creatively and expand their horizons with with fun, tasty, and very satisfying vegetarian options.

Archana
Archana

Hi Gail,

Been a great fan of the show (I don't live in America) and I am a hard core vegetarian. I have always wondered as to why Top Chef had not come up with a single vegetarian challenge for the chefs. And this one was a welcome surprise and a huge disappointment! How can such talented chefs not cater to vegetarians at all? I have been served a plate full of cooked vegetables (in many cases raw) at many restaurants due to the lack of imagination (or ignorance) when it comes to vegetarian food! Why not incorporate pasta/rice/noodles, grains, diary in their dishes? Why not think Asian, India, Mexican? I don't get it.

Its really good to have you back on the show. Thanks for this blog!

Amalia
Amalia

As I noted on Tom's blog, I have spent a lot of time around Tibetans and Tibetan cuisine (due to altitude) is very meat heavy, but many Tibetans living in exile have chosen to go vegetarian! I was so disappointed by the dishes. Not one looked like something I would actually WANT to eat! My immediate thought of what I would have cooked is a modern take on a Tibetan dish. Kothay (simultaneously steam fried) dumplings stuffed with mashed potato, fresh cilantro, tumeric and fresh peas, served with a traditional chili sauce, A duo of traditional quick-pickled daikon radish (not spicey) along with a more modern summer pickle of crispy daikon, soy, sesame oil and chili, some sichuan spiced bokchoy and probably serve that over quinoa. For goodness sake, I'm not a chef and I could have made that in under 2 hours!!! Additionally, completely vegan, very filling and nutritious! I make the potato dumplings and radish salads for myself and my friends all the time.

Paul C
Paul C

Gail -- I've always been astounded by how many of the chefs smoke, when taste is so important to what they do. Can you comment?

chakrateeze
chakrateeze

What most people don't realize that Kevin had a leg up. 'Cause, in the South, we might be famous for ribs and ham and fried chicken, but we're big on veggies. When I think about my grandmother's cooking it's a pot of greens, some white beans and cornbread.

I'm a flexitarian.

As in, I eat meat about once a week. And am very happy with a plate of veggies or red beans and rice. But, I'd be lying if I didn't say I LOVE chicken day!

johnpmc
johnpmc

Not too sure about what makes someone a Vegetarian. A Pescitarian is not a vegetarian by any stretch. I think even raw eaters are off. There is ample evidence (biological and anthropological) that we not only descended from omnivores but also from anthropoids that cooked their food. The Human digestive system evolved and is adapted to eat cooked food that is a mix of vegetable matter and zoological matter. That said I love vegetables and they go great with meat.

finallyavegshow
finallyavegshow

Top Chef's focus on meat has made watching it a guilty pleasure for this 20-year vegetarian. I was so glad to see that Natalie Portman was going to host because I knew that meant a veg challenge!

I'm grateful to live in a city where veg options are on nearly ever menu. However, it seems all too often I find myself sitting next to people with elaborate meat dishes with sides while I'm left staring down some really expensive veggies tossed with olive oil and some pasta.

But at least there is usually pasta to fill my belly.

I was so disappointed in the lack of fat or protein-rich food on this week's show. The dishes all looked mighty tasty, but it's hard to imagine anyone eating most of them for dinner, even Kevin's hearty mushrooms, and not leaving hungry.

wondering
wondering

Gail,

if you objected to meat literally and ethically, what about your ethics changed to allow you to now eat meat?

Vegan in Vegas
Vegan in Vegas

Should have taken them all out to Red Velvet Cafe on Sahara to see what REAL veg* cooking is about! Aneesha could have set them straight about how to put together a veg* entree, not a plate of veggies.

If I was served one of those "chef's" dishes at a restaurant, I would send it back and walk out immediately! My 15 year old son can make better veg* dishes than these...

Now let's see a challenge with REAL vegan dishes, not like the Top Chef Masters with the cream, yogurt and butter in the recipes. Let them use soy cheese, hemp milk, seitan, quinoa...

GoVeggieLynn
GoVeggieLynn

Gail, You are right on! I have been a vegetarian for 32 years and agree that all the chefs demonstrated an ignorance to vegetarian cooking. Ethnic cuisines all feature balanced vegetarian dishes-tofu curries, enchiladas, crepes, Indian palak paneer, falafel and hummus, pastas with smoked tomato sauces and pinenuts and on and on. Even traditional American cuisine is well adapted to a delicious vegetarian meal, using organic vegetables more creatively, for example, a play off southern cooking with greens, cornbread with fresh corn, serranos and cheddar, blackeyed pea fritters, fried green tomatoes and a fresh harvard beet salad. What about bread, rice, tofu and yogurts and NUTS! Soups, stews, zucchini "crabcakes, sweet potatoes...

I would challenge all the chefs to a throwdown as I have been cooking creatively vegetarian for so long. What is required of the chefs to create a truly delicious and satisfying meal is a shift in thinking so that meat is not viewed as a missing component but rather as unnecessary, which I feel none of them were able to accomplish. They also demonstrated a lack of knowledge about nutrtional components and balanced, healthy eating.

Thanks Gail for the thoughtful and supportive views on vegetarianism! I just love Top Chef! Maybe Bravo could do a vegetarian show which would include lower fat and healthier meals!

Veggie in Ohio
Veggie in Ohio

Gail - Rockin' post! Thank you! I agree with Natalie Portman that protein can be hard to get. And vegetarianism and veganism CAN be dangerous, if you don't know what you're doing/don't understand your personal nutritional needs. I've been a vegetarian for 19 years, though on and off, I've ventured into pescatarianism during that time. About 6 years in, I experienced extreme fatigue, thinning hair and sudden weight gain -about 30 lbs! At the time, my diet included loads of fresh vegetables, whole grains, pastas and a little dairy. I was protein deficient.

Now, all these years later, I find that due to an estrogen sensitive disease, I must strictly limit soy intake. Soy had been my main source of protein.

So, I'm with Natalie. It's not that I "can't" get protein, but I certainly do have to be more creative and diligent about my pursuit! A handful of nuts or a glass of skim milk isn't enough...lean protein must accompany every meal, and vegetarians need to know and practice this. (Especially young people who are trying vegetarianism on for the first time...

Seattle Veg
Seattle Veg

I, too, was as disappointed as the rest when it came to the utterly unimaginative work of the chefs this week. As a lifelong pescatarian and huge fan of Top Chef, one problem I have as a viewer is that so many of the dishes, week after week, are ones that I would never eat- despite the fact that I know from a culinary standpoint that they are often brilliantly imagined and executed. Any vegetarian can still recognize good food, even if they don't eat it.

The fact remains that the Season 6 Chefs missed the mark completely by interpreting vegetarian cuisine as "just vegetables". Even the use of a delicious pasta- risotto, a paella, or gnocchi with a well conceived sauce with brioche on the side, this would have far superseded what so many presented on this episode. Braised veggi's is not creative vegetarian cuisine, like the judges noticed, this is a side dish that needs to be served with a substantial, filling, delicate and delicious entree. As so many others mentioned, the absence of grains, egg, cheese (dairy in general)and pasta was what created such a huge disappointment on this episode. I don't doubt that Kevin's dish and 'little brother's' dish was good, but in general, I don't believe that creating vegetarian dishes is all about making people forget they didn't eat meat. For many of us, eating meat is not the same as "getting or feeling full". Feeling satisfied and satiated while walking away from a meal can and should be the result of any well conceived and prepared meal, despite the use of meat proteins.

For all the chefs out there reading, please know that there are vegetarians who are passionate about creative, dynamic, and adventurous food and choose to not eat meat. We are ready and willing to support restaurants and chefs that can resist the imminent freak out of not using meat and deliver this challenge.

If anyone is in the Seattle area, I implore you to try Carmelita- a consistently vibrant and beautifully executed vegetarian restaurant that will make you appreciate what exciting non-meat food can taste like.

T.L.
T.L.

Wow, steeveroo, calm down! First of all vegetarian doesn't mean someone eats only vegetables. Secondly, in its broadest sense, it means a person who does not eat MEAT. Some vegetarians choose to consume eggs and/or dairy. "Strict vegetarians" and vegans choose to abstain from all animal products. The distinction used to be that vegan also encompassed not using ANYTHING with an animal product - clothing, cosmetics, etc. I think they tend to be more interchangeable now because essentially a vegan diet and strict vegetarian are the same. While it's wonderful that you and your friends are stricter, it doesn't help to quibble over who's a "better" vegetarian, the bottom line is that everyone should make this choice for themselves based on their own criteria. And whatever your reasons for going veg, wouldn't you agree that every little bit helps?

Viewer1155
Viewer1155

I thought one of the funniest comments of the episode was from Natalie Portman at the Judge's Table. She commented about Michael V's dish and how wild and creative it was, "wow, who's your dealer and does he want some new clients?" It just really made me laugh. She was a delightful guest and clearly knew the show's routine. Loved what she brought to the table, and her friends (capitalizing on Padma's comment about the 'prick') were very entertaining as well!

Kenn
Kenn

Your assessment of what went wrong for most of the chefs was probably correct. They may well have mentally conjured nothing but a "great steak" menu ,, and when the "vegetarian curve" was thrown at them ,, they suffered brain-freeze. I'm not surprised that Michael I. was eliminated ,, but am very surprised that Jennifer has tripped during the past two weeks. She's a hell of a good chef and it's a bummer to watch her slipping down the tube. Hope she pulls herself out of the doldrums and gets back to form. Great to see you back.

hdub
hdub

Glad you are back Gail. I love the perspective you bring. It's very earnest and heartfelt. It's never the same when you aren't there.

I agree, everybody's dishes except for Kevin's seemed to be a let down (and even he admitted it wasn't as easy on the eyes as it could have been). I also thought the quickfire left me somewhat disappointed...

thanks for the great blog

DLO
DLO

I think it's disingenous to throw multiple curveballs at the chefs and then lament and moan that the food isn't up to par. "No time to plan" = Quickfire. If you want something truly amazing, at least give them some time to think about it. Even the worst of these chefs are pretty good, so I find it hard to blame them 100% for underperforming. Michael V. made freaking mustard noodles earlier in the season; I find it hard to believe these guys can't do imaginative vegetarian meals. Were the (allegedly available) cheeses clearly rennet-free? Were there canned beans in the (allegedly jam-packed) pantry? Was there (Swansons!)vegetable stock onhand? I would much rather see successful chefs and fantastic food than worn out, defeated chefs done in by TWISTS!!

DanielK
DanielK

Gail, your reaction at the kiss and hug between Jen and Mike was priceless!

vb62
vb62

I was irritated by the attitude of the chefs to tonight's task. I thought they were almost rude to the guest who was the center of the event. In the comments they appeared to resent having to cook for a vegetarian. I thought that was rude and foolish. I don't know of a restaurant that doesn't offer vegetarian choices. I can't believe that none of them had a decent recipe in their arsenal.

I'm not vegetarian, but I was shocked by the attitude.

In Italy I've eaten marvelous salads, vegetable choices and grains that are meatless and a major focus of the meal. The request was hardly outlandish.

Joe2485
Joe2485

steeveroo: Your friends are vegans, not vegetarians. Vegetarians will still eat dairy and eggs, while vegans will not eat anything produced from an animal.

VeganViewer: Natalie was referring to the lack of vegetarian/vegan protein options in a restaurant, not in general as part of the diet.

Grebby: I'm not sure why you hate the phrase "respect the protein!" as it is one of the most essential parts of a diet, be it carnivore/vegetarian/vegan. If that part gets ruined, no matter how good the rest of the dish is, you're going to end up hungry. It makes sense for any chef to ensure the protein is the focal point of the dish.

For all vegans: If you live in the southern California area, go to Veggie Grill. It is the most fantastic and satisfying vegan food I've ever had, and that's coming from an omnivore who loves his steak! I still go there weekly to eat. Highly recommended.

givemeglenn
givemeglenn

Glad you're back Gail!

Not knowing all of the available items available to the seven chefs working in a small space at the same time, fighting over product, counter space, areas to prepare their meals, and the time constraints they were working under, I think perhaps we shouldn't be too harsh on the chefs for some of the selections of the items they chose to prepare for their respective meals.

This, obviously doesn't excuse a meal that hasn't been thought out, executed, or seasoned well.

With that being said, it was obvious from Gail's comments that Kevin's dish hit the mark on being well thought out, well executed, and seasoned to perfection. It was also, according to the comments from the guests, the only dish presented that was hearty enough to be considered a meal.

Kevin has proved to be calm and steady throughout the season, producing quality food without sniping or backstabbing; he's always jovial - nothing seems to rattle him.

On the other hand, as the competition has started winding down, the other chefs have started getting edgy, maybe with the exception of Eli who seems to be actually doing better for some strange reason, maybe because the others are tensing up so much. Jennifer is a great chef, but is losing it, and the V. brothers are starting to get on my nerves, especially Mike. You can be a great chef without being a jerk; look at Kevin.

Tanya in Vancouver
Tanya in Vancouver

THANK YOU! I kept watching last night with my eyebrows knit together in perplexity--where were the grains, or cheeses, or egg? Did I miss something and Natalie said she was vegan instead of vegetarian? It seemed like the change of concept startled them so much they couldn't get back the VEG part of vegetarian.

Not Important
Not Important

As disappointed as I was, unfortunately I was not at all surprised. There are plenty of great veg*n dishes out there, and some chefs do a great job with such a challenge. But a lot of chefs seem to have an attitude that cooking veg*n food is beneath them. Just listen to the comments the chefs had. They were joking, but these jokes reflected their lack of interest in providing quality veg*n food. This is the attitude that I've come across on many occasions. Eli's point that vegetarians often get random vegetable medley tossed together is very accurate. It doesn't have to be that way. If you can't cook a quality creative filling veg*n meal, then you should not be the Top Chef.

ViewerChuck
ViewerChuck

Thanks for the perspective, Gail.

Just a thought but, if MikeV is Picasso, then Kevin is Matisse. Relative to this show, of course.

Peace out.

George
George

Great blog Gail!!!

I wonder if time constraints played a factor in the lack of imagination for this challenge. They only had 2 hrs, right and there was no prep ahead of time?

zippersgirl
zippersgirl

Love your blog Gail.

As a vegetarian ( not Vegan) for 40 years now, I was incredibly disappointed by the lack of imagination of these chefs!! Terrible! The food that they served is the reason we rarely eat out and I learned to become a good gourmet veggie cook. No one bothered to venture out of the country. Where were the Mediterranean, Asian, Indian, Mexican entrees? Stunning lack of thought. Where were the pastas, grains and dairy? Very disheartened that young chefs could be so backwards in their thinking about vegetarian dining.

jltt
jltt

Thanks for the insights on last night's episode. It was one of my favorites so far, and obviously a true challenge for the chefs.

I am still wondering, though, exactly what happened at the end of the judges table. Mike I. shook the judges' hands, and the camera cut to a shot of you with a very surprised look. Was this simply because Mike I. hugged Jen and not Robin, or did I miss something?

betjam
betjam

Our 15 yo daughter is vegetarian. We found we prefer the vegetarian dishes at restaurants now, as it seems more thought goes into them. So I was expected some great dishes from these chefs. Very disappointing.

Allyson
Allyson

As a vegetarian, eating at others house has always be challenging. Have a few friends who are chefs here in Austin, TX, it is always interesting to see how that handle cooking for me. Some look at it as a after thought, some as a hinderance, and some as a challenge. It's always the ones who look at it as a challenge who come through for me. And I respect them more because they have enough respect for me and their cooking to make something wonderful for the "poor hunter" -a reference to the old vegetarian joke :)

Too bad these top chef contestants didn't realize that vegetarians do like good food, we just have a hard time finding it at restaurants..

sm
sm

Frankly, I am disappointed by the chef's results. They say they are all executive chefs, etc, all trained, yet had difficulty preparing a vegeterian dish?! First of all, if you're a great chef, you should know how to flavor food, and not count the food (i.e.) bringing flavor. A veg dish requires a chef to be skilled on creating flavors..frankkly all of these people should have been eliminated.

VegetarianViewer
VegetarianViewer

I don't remember if it was season 3 or 4, but every other episode had cooscoos in some form or the other. This would have been a great time to make cooscoos with grilled vegetables coated in moroccan curry sauce or rice with any one of the many Indian curries or Thai curries. Yes, these dishes may lack creativity, but I think the judges would have appreciated anything that tasted good and filled a person's appetite. Kevin's winning dish is an example of just that.

Tom- I plan to go to Craft Steak this December so my boyfriend can enjoy a good steak. I know he will be happy with your food, but I am hoping that I will be satisfied with my vegetarian food :)

LeighBee
LeighBee

I, too, was confused at how many chefs chose to isolate vegetables on the plate with no grains or proteins. Surely someone saw rice in the pantry? Cous-cous? Wheat berries? Very strange. As a diner currently practicing the pesco-vegetarian diet (and even with that, fish is only about 1x a month at most), I want to point out that there is one more protein that was presented in addition to the legumes: Mushroom. Kevin was smart to offer that up, and I was so happy to see him take the win!

Grebby
Grebby

I feel like the chefs don't look at the pantry as a source for inspiration. They all seem to build every dish around the meat or seafood. (I hate that phrase "respect the protein!") They don't see their dishes as a mix of ingredients; it's one ingredient plus whatever you can add to it. So it's not surprising that when the meat was taken away, nearly all of them picked a single vegetable (eggplant! leeks! mushrooms!) and built a dish around it. It's a mindset that they need to lose, for the sake of the competition and their careers.

Foodie Fran
Foodie Fran

I too loved the challenge but was dissappointed in the results. I have been a vegetarian but now eat poultry and fish a day or two a week. I've watched all shows all seasons. There are many types of pastas, rices, Indian food (which is based on vegetarian ideals) Greek Felafel, etc - maybe the contestants are too run down. It certainly has affected poor Jennifer. I hope she gets some rest and gets back on her feet. I was admiring this season's contestants for their professionalism and keeping it on the high road but this too seems to be unravelling. Mike I. seemed a bit catty (but I enjoyed his comments anyway) and I was sad to see him go because I think he's likely a great cook and should have gone farther in the competition. There was no way to say that Michael V. saved Robin's. Just wanted to put in my vote for more vegetarian competitions. Also - - the level of cooking on this show does seem high and I will be sad to see most of the rest of them leave.

Vegetarian
Vegetarian

I have been a vegetarian for over 20 years and for the last 10 years or so I have had little trouble finding vegetarian options in most restaurants. I don't eat fast food but I do go to all types of restaurants in most price ranges. Most of the food last night was a disappointment, more side dish than main dish and the attitudes of the cooks towards vegetatian cooking was disappointing as well.

Jules in Michigan
Jules in Michigan

You said it! I do eat fish, not meat. I was expecting some cool dishes! Boy did they disappoint! They are such a talented group, I can only imagine what a let down that was in person! Come on Jenn, feet don't fail me now! :)

VeganViewer
VeganViewer

I was really disappointed in last night's offerings, too, as I wrote in Tom's blog. It all looked like uninspired side dishes, which is all-too-common when someone tries to make vegetarian fare.

I'm sorry, but I think a trained chef, as these contestants claim to be, should be able to make anything. They should be able to throw a dessert together, even if all they have are 2 or 3 recipes. They should be able to whip up something vegan that's filling and well-balanced, and good-tasting, even if all they have are 2 or 3 recipes.

Being a chef, at least to me, means you're inspired by food, and influenced by new things, and experiementing with new discoveries all the time, in addition to perfecting dishes that are already familiar. Am I wrong? So, because of my view of what it means to be a chef, I don't think I'm too far off the mark in thinking someone who has been through culinary school should be able to improvise, and improvise well because of the "practice" they get when they experiment with new flavors and textures.

It always seems like Top Chef contestants can't "cook outside the box".

And, like I wrote in Tom's blog, I'm really upset with Natalie Portman for saying protein is something that can be hard to get. This notion is ridiculous, and it makes it seem as if vegetarianism and veganism are somehow "dangerous".

The concept of "complete proteins" with mixing, say, beans and rice, is mythology, so the dishes presented to everyone last night didn't need specialized protein components. They just needed to be substantial and look like they weren't antipasto plates, which is what omnivores always seem to fix for someone who doesn't eat meat, which is why I never attend anything without bringing my own food.

The funny thing about cooking for one's self as a survival method is this-----tell an omnivore that they have to eat vegan or vegetarian for just one meal, and they have a knee-jerk reaction and think, "OMG! I'm going to STARVE!" and they get all upset. But put some really great vegan food on the table for YOURSELF, and the omnivores descend on it and gobble it down before everything else, leaving the vegan or vegetarian to starve because all that remains on the buffet is stuff that's got meat & eggs in it. Happens every time.

It's nice to see an omni eating something healthful, but it would be even nicer if they didn't freak out when faced with "having" to eat vegetarian sometimes.

Liz S from NJ
Liz S from NJ

I too was disappointed that the chefs did not seem to understand that a great vegetarian meal is not about serving several vegetables on one plate or trying to disguise vegetables, grains, and the like to look like meat or fish dishes. Rather, it is about showcasing these ingredients in dishes that are worthy in their own right. I just recently dined at Blossoming Lotus - Irvington in the Lloyd District in Portland, Oregon while on vacation with my vegan daughter and thoroughly enjoyed my meal even though I am not a vegetarian. Each course was not only full of flavor and filling (we enjoyed the leftovers the next day) but also so beautifully presented, we actually took pictures. Top chefs are the ones who can create a wonderful meal with whatever ingredients they are given and in that regard, this challenge was very telling.

anonymuss
anonymuss

While I was watching, I was wondering what kinds of whole grains and vegetarian proteins were available in the kitchen to the chefs. There was a wonderful wealth of vegetables brought in, but did the producers also bring in a bunch of options for whole grains and proteins? The chefs had to work with what they had on hand, and the time they had available. No time to soak dried beans, for example, which was why we saw only lentils and fresh garbanzos. Mike I, who cooks a lot of vegetarian food, was commenting that he didn't have most of his usual ingredients (yogurt, etc.). So I was wondering what stock they had other than the vegetables from the market and the usual Craft kitchen pantry stock?

Isabella
Isabella

steeveroo; Generally peaking Vegetarian cooking includes eggs and dairy, Vegan cooking is vegetarian cooking with no animal products at all. There's some debate as to specifics (some vegetarians eat diary, but not egges; vegans debate whether honey is acceptable; and so on). Both vegetarians and Vegans eat beans and grains (in fact, the combination of beans and grains is a perfect protein and a common source of protein for vegetarians and vegans).

If your friends really only eat fruits and vegetables, I would not consider them vegetarians, but very extreme vegans. (What do they do for protein if they don't eat beans and grains?)

ferfer
ferfer

It's even harder to be a vegetarian when you don't like mushrooms. They are in EVERYTHING on a vegetarian menu! Aren't there other non-meat items?

Buddydave
Buddydave

There HAD to have been more constraints than just no meat. I'm not buying the "they were encouraged to use dairy and eggs" line. These chefs are too smart to skip over dairy, eggs, and grains if they were being encouraged to use them.