OK. This one is going to be fun for me, especially after my blog two weeks ago that was a complete and total homage to the pig and all of it's glory. I bet you all can imagine how I feel about vegetarians. Let's put it this way: I was a vegetarian once in my life. It lasted about a week. I dated a vegetarian once in my life; that lasted about a week. I think that bacon is the best thing in the universe. I am clearly not vegetarian-friendly, no matter how hot Natalie Portman might be. So that being said, this episode made me laugh, and made feel fortunate not to be in the chefs' shoes (except, I would have LOVED that TV dinner challenge). I hate cooking for vegetarians. You may not realize how difficult it is, but it really sucks. Soups are easy, making a vegetarian pasta is easy, but coming up with a hearty, well-balanced, all vegetable entree is really, really tough. There are times at Absinthe that I have customers who can't eat certain things due to allergies, dietary restrictions, or personal preference, and they always want us to make them something special. For the most part I always oblige, even when I am being slammed because that's what we do as chefs. We are here to please our customers and make them happy. However, not going to say that it isn't a challenge, especially since most of our stuff is pre-prepped during the day and may include some sort of meat stock, or cream (for the word I hate to mutter: vegan). Vegan is way worse. The chefs should be stoked they didn't have to deal with that.
But first, let's discuss the Quickfire Oh my god ...TV dinners ... I loved it! I grew up on those suckers, well, before the cholesterol scare of the mid-'80s and then we weren't allowed to eat anything from a tray, but I was obsessed with the Hungry Man Salisbury steak dinner (I can't believe I am admitting this on a Web site). I loved the awfully overcooked green beans, the pasty mashed potatoes, the bizarre excuse for a dessert which was usually some sort of berry or apple crumble, and of course the piece d'resistance: the Salisbury steak. Ask me now what Salisbury steak is and I could hardly tell you, even as a chef. I remember once trying to replicate it years ago, but I couldn't come close without it becoming too chef-like. This was a Quickfire right up my alley. I thought that Kevin really nailed the Sopranos with the meatballs and cauliflower and it all looked great, and Micheal V. also put together a delicious-looking TV dinner for Cheers (though I think I would have went with something a bit more bar foodish). I didn't quite understand Robin's dish. It didn't make a whole lot of sense to me in relation to Sesame Street and that burger looked hideous. Jennifer's tray looked a little disappointing as well, and that pea salad was kind of weak. Seems like she threw this one away, or at least gave up a little. Bryan's meatloaf also looked good, and his definitely fit in with the TV dinner theme.
Now here's the funny thing about Top Chef: nothing is ever what it seems, and the fact the chefs actually thought that they were just going to roll into Craftsteak and make whatever they wanted is hilarious to me. There is always a curveball, and the producers sure know how to throw them, and what a better way of doing it then to turn a steakhouse into a farmer's market for a night? I literally laughed out loud when Natalie Portman came walking into the kitchen. I have known she was a vegetarian for years (yes, I read People magazine, so sue me). I knew exactly what was going to roll off her tongue, and the looks on the chefs' faces were priceless. The good thing is that there were a lot of great vegetable options in the walk-in. I love fresh garbanzos, and was excited to see them on the show. However, I wish Robin used them in a different way as opposed to just tossing them on the plates (well, some of the plates). Also, the fact that they had access to items like garlic blossoms, wild asparagus, Brussels sprouts, fennel, and wild mushrooms made it exciting to see what they came up with.
I get that it's very difficult to change your flavor profiles when you're a chef who focuses on animal protein, but come on. I have seen the cheftestants in all six seasons come up with some imaginative and delicious-looking vegetarian options. It has come easy for them -- until last night. Cheftestant deer frozen in headlights. tsk tsk
Salisbury Steak was my favorite too! And the crumble always ended up oozing out into the other compartments. Or the gravy ended up in the crumble. It still tasted good. :) We only got TV dinners when the parents went out, so it was a special treat.
LOL. I am sorry but creating a well balanced vegeterian meal is quiet easy and clearly if you're a trained chef, you should be able to do it. A well cooked vegeterian meal should be flavored well since you're not relying on meat to bring flavor, and if you're a trained chef and you cannot do that, then frankly you really have no business being on the show. :)
Jamie: I agree with you on the thumbs down on preparing vegetarian dishes...They want their meals to satifying and well rounded like a carnivores meal, but they chose for whatever reason to prefer to only eat grains, pastas and vegetables. Hello, there is no meat in there so dont expect it to taste like meat. It is the same as a person who wants to fat free, salt free, etc, but still want the meals to taste like butter or have flavor. I am a chef by profession and had a client that was in training and only ate fish and white meat, no fat or sodium...It was so difficult to create three meals a day given that criteria, especially because he did not like veg. Oh well, you are in it for the love of the food, so you give them what they want!
enjoy the perspective! Tweet about how the smoked mushroom goes! And keep the no-punches-pulled attitude towards analysis
Actually, while not a chef, I have fun coming up with new and interesting vegetarian dishes. As long as I'm not dealing with vegans, eggs and cheese can go a long way toward providing a meaty texture. Beans are great too (while being a wonderful source of protein). Mushrooms, soy, and tofu go a long, long, way towards creating umami. I was disappointed at how little beans, nuts, or tofu were used and no one tried to work out a reasonably good, hearty quiche (though time probably worked against that idea).
Oh honey, you don't realllly want to know what's in that Salisbury Steak, do you? ;)
Thanks for the laughs! Love the blog, and I'll be back.
Cooking for vegetarians is not that hard. Cooking for vegans is a little more challenging but ultimately not that hard. There were hardly any complex carbs used, and the ability to use butter and cream could have made some of the lightweight dishes more substantial. No eggs either -- poached eggs are a great complement to any number of meatless meals. I was all but yelling at my tv for Jen to make an eggplant flan when she seemed at a loss for what to do with the gorgeous looking eggplants.
I'm a vegetarian and nothing prepared in this episode really impressed me. Kevin's dish seemed to be the closest to something enjoyable, if not earth shattering. Michael V's looked like he was trying to impress more with technical wizardry than something I'd really enjoy eating.
I guess none of these chefs has been to Ubuntu. Jeremy Fox to show them how to do this right.
Oh, it saddens me to know that you don't like cooking vegetarian food. I am a vegetarian because I honestly just don't like meat, and I have had so many good meals both at home and at restaurants. I don't miss meat at all, and it's really not difficult to make good food without it.
I am with you on the love for meat (especially pork). There is just something so luxurious about it. But I do have to say in this food culture we coming across someone who has limitations in what they eat is so incredibly common (and for an array of reasons: medical necessity, allergies, socially conscious, digestions issues...etc.) I think it's critical for us to know how to prepare equally exciting, satisfying, & flavorful food. Whether it's in a multi-star restaurant, or cooking for your friends and family I find more time than not there is going to someone around that falls outside of the norm. That's when I think we are truly tested as the culinary geniuses we are (or aspire to be). love the blog, you have great perspective & keep it entertaining. keep it up!
Jamie, you are one of my all-time favorite contestants. And as a vegetarian I would be delighted to have a great pasta dish. I do not only eat vegetables, and neither do most vegetarians or even vegans.
It's a misconception that a lot of chefs share. I've noticed the fancier a restaurant I go to, the more likely it is that I'll be served a plate of roasted vegetables. (And charged an entree price for it.) Sometimes, though, you go to a place where the chef has obviously put a lot of thought into creating a delicious meal without meat, and I'm always grateful. And I go back.
Chefwineaux,I think you have a misperception. I actually don't want my food to feel like meat. But I manage to cook well-rounded and satisfying meals every night. It doesn't have to taste like meat to be satisfying.
let me start with saying that i am not a vegetarian. but, what's the big deal? it's not challenging to cook vegetarian. you just have to pretend that meat doesn't exist. once your mind gets over that and opens, it's rather simple. then vegan isn't too far off from there.
i worked in a gluten-free bakery/cafe, which also caters to other allergies such as diary and soy. no corn in house either.
we got a lot of vegetarians and vegans, so i ended up cooking a lot of vegan food. one solution i found was substituting coconut milk for cream. it's thick and rich but does not have a strong coconut flavor and still got the texture i wanted. my favorite vegan soups are oven roasted tomato/basil bisque, curry squash(butternut, pumpkin/sweetpotato), ginger carrot/apple. over all my top thing to make though is thai panang curry with tofu.
there are lots of ways. and as far as pre-prepping, i get that. but how about having some veggie entrees?
Come on, Jamie! you have never thrown a couple of fat Portabellos on a wood fired grill next to a big old juicy Porterhouse? Ya gotta use wood, since no one ever waxes poetic over the virtues of that good old propane flavor...though you might get away with some soaled wood chips for the flavor.
Yes, I have smoked mushrooms. No, I have never considered being vegetarian for more than about 15 minutes. Come dinner time, that thought just flew right out the window! I might be able to do pescatarian, if I could afford it here in the Midwest.
I was pretty disappointed in the dishes the chefs came up with. Kevin's was at least a hearty, filling meal. Aside from a splat of polenta, MVolt's dish looked as much, or more, like a side dish as Jen's dish.
Given your previous strong comments about Mike Isabella, I'm surprised you haven't expressed more pleasure and/or satisfaction about his dismissal in episode 10.
I'm not a vegetarian, but I eat meatless dishes a couple of times a week. It is not that difficult to make a good vegetarian meal. Now making a good vegan meal is totally different and I agree with you that is not very appealing and quite difficult to make. With the episode last night, I didn't understand why they all avoided using dairy like eggs or cheese or butter. Natalie was a vegetarian not a vegan. One of my favorite things to make which is good anytime of the day is a frittata with vegetables. It's delicious easy to make and has plenty of protein.
Jamie, please go have a meal at Greens in SF (Fort Mason). They'll show you that a committed chef who isn't so antagonistic toward vegetarians can create beautiful, delicious meat-free food. It'll change your perspective, I promise.
I am wondering why NONE of the cheftestants even considered a nice gnocchi or ravioli? Or a great hearty soup? They were all SO focused on putting out vegetables only. Mike I. even tried to make his vegetables resemble scallops! I was confused to say the least.
I was waiting for the big, "Hooray!" from you when Mike I. was potentially going to go home. I can't believe you predicted wrong this time. Is your crystal ball broken? Oh well, keep up the cool blogging anyway.
Oh God, I LOVED that Salisbury steak entree. It was my favourite for years, until I realized the roast turkey came with a brownie instead. My mom is a good cook and rarely cooked food from frozen, but I would specifically ask for the Salisbury steak frozen dinner, and she was more than happy to toss it in the oven every so often. Mmmmm mmmmm.
I eat vegetarian a lot because jesus, meat is expensive. That's really the only reason. When I crave steak, I call up the parents and tell them I'm coming over for dinner, because I know they'll feed it to me. And even veggie dishes I make are mostly cheats, because I always use turkey stock.
Vegans can be really hard to cook for, I agree, especially dessert. Non-dairy chocolate? No eggs? No whipped cream? That just makes me sad.
Meat, yes. Eggplant, no. Garlic, always. You can cook for me anytime. P.S. Did you hear Stefan is looking for a girlfriend?!? Apparently, he's advertising. It's not too late.
Jamie, Sorry to hear that some people are giving you heat for your preference for meat. Tom basically said the same thing, with more flowery language. Here's my question for you: Tom said that JenC was showing some signs of flagging, that at this stage of the competition, stamina becomes a real issue for some. Can you share with us how that works or what it's like? John
Great blog as usual, Jamie. Agree with Nom de Plume that you should go to Greens in the Marina District of SF (was just there a week ago and it was fantastic, if slightly underspiced) BUT the most amazing, mind blowing restaurant to recalibrate the expectations of meat eaters is Horizons in Philly. And it's VEGAN. Do try it! PROMISE you won't be disappointed.
Good cooks can make something very good with any set of ingredients at hand. Great chefs should be able to make something sublime with those ingredients supplied. Vegetarian dishes don't have to be boring, unsatisfying side dishes. If you can't prepare creative plates out of fabulous vegetables, then go back to culinary school and learn to do so. There are many vegetarians and others who want something else (besides the predictable meats). btw: I am not a vegetarian. I, too, adore bacon. Unfortunately, due to health reasons, I can't eat it or very much meat. However, I do like to eat good food done well, period.
Good cooks can make good meals out of any set of ingredients at hand. Great chefs should be able to make sublime dishes from those fabulous ingredients supplied. If it is too daunting to create a wonderful dish for a vegetarian, then I suggest going back to culinary school and learn to do so. There are many vegetarians and others (like myself) who would like to eat something else (apart from the usual meat dishes) for a change. Vegetarian dishes don't have to be boring, unsatisfying side dishes. They can be delicious and adventurous.
It is nice to hear Jamie sound off about vegetarian cooking. As usual, I appreciate her candor. Also Greens is overated. Save your money and just throw some veggies on the grill.
OMG I laughed out loud (literally) at your description of the TV dinners and referring to Michael V as Picasso!
Also, after reading your post I am now ridiculously hungry! If there are three things I love, it's bacon, scallops and garlic.
If I ever become a vegan, someone please put me into a mental hospital, for I will have lost my mind.
"let me start with saying that i am not a vegetarian. but, what's the big deal? it's not challenging to cook vegetarian. you just have to pretend that meat doesn't exist. once your mind gets over that and opens, it's rather simple."
As a former vegetarian, you have no idea how completely wrong you are.
You can't just "take the meat out" of a dish and expect it will work. Every component of a dish adds to it's overall flavor and taking out a major component such as a protein completely changes it.
Do you have any idea how hard it is, for example, to make a savory tasting dish with just vegetables? And no, believe me, trying to create "savory" with just cream, butter or herbs is harder than you can imagine.
I personally found it very difficult to make a vegetable entree that is filling and "sticks to your ribs" unless you are using legumes.
I'm not trying to dog you, I just disagree with you as someone who actually was a vegetarian.
O.K first I loved u on the show I was so pissed when u got cut off I thought u were awesome I wanna go to culinary school any words of wisdom on where to go.
i couldn't believe that no one made a soup. w/ those special ingredients, a unique and memorable soup would have been the way i went. easy to say when you're not in the middle of it. i want you, jamie, to know that last season i liked you, then i thought you were a baby for a strectch, and even though you exhibited a mildly snotty stance on concerning all of the 'fish-dishes', i started really liking you again - then were sent home. that was a bummer. isn't it just crazy-irony that you drew the one dish you didn't like anyway? i enjoyed your dynamic w/ stephan. overall, your season is my favorite, and that pallet quickfire exchange between stephan and leah was my favorite scene ever; the looks. this season has four really, really good chefs. do you agree? 'too much of a good thing' exists w/ me and bacon. i get clogged.
Jamie - Yeah, I agree with you about the chefs being surprised by the curve thrown at them at Tom's SteakHouse. One would think that after five seasons of Top Chef any and every cheftestant would know that nothing is as it seems and curves are the norm. Possibly they went to sleep that night conjuring up a delicious steak dinner dish ,, and when the curve was tossed their way ,, they suffered "brain-fart."
i'm going to agree with others here and say that creating a good vegetarian dish isn't difficult and the chefs should be able to do it if they're creative/innovative/versatile. however, i think creating a good vegetarian dish on a whim, with time constraints, is definitely difficult for someone who rarely cooks without meat. i was surprised to see a lack of legumes, which brings the protein hardcore. and no cheese or egg. just vegetables and grains =/= a satisfying entree in most cases. and then natalie singled out mike i. for lacking a strong protein component, but kevin's dish also lacked protein! i mean, just kale and mushrooms? that's as much a side dish as jen's dish. not many of the chefs used much protein at all.
@Chefwineaux: Have you ever given thought to the fact that you're killing animals for that carnivorous meal? Added to that is the fact that meat for 2x day, 7 days a week can get very expensive and unhealthy. So there is nothing wrong with choosing to minimize your meat intake and there's a whole lot of Asian foods that are well-rounded and vegetarian. Stop complaining and do a little studying of nutrition and you just may learn the different ways to setup protein into your meals.
I was a vegetarian for twenty years and that taught me to use spices well. For meat eaters you can toss a little salt and pepper on meat and call it done; for herbivores you have to use much more in the way of seasoning. My guess is that no matter what the protein or presentation, Kevin knows how to season in a way that makes perfect sense. He could have served any other chefs meal but would have seasoned it correctly and that is all that matters in the end. I would like to know how exactly how he is seasoning because he seems to hit the judges right where it counts every time.
We missed you on the reunion show!!!
My fav was the meatloaf (with tomato sauce that always leaked over to the brownie) good times.
My 11 yr old daughter claims she is going vegeterian for Lent. She said, "bacon is a vegetable, right?" I had to tell her the truth.
Love the blog!!!
When I met my girlfriend, she was a....VEGAN! We almost didn't make it to the second date. The only thing I could think of was breakfast. What on earth where we going to eat for breakfast?!
Anyhow, all her other great qualities made it last, and I am happy to say that now, after two long years of hard work and a lot of cooking, I even have her eating fish! Don't think I will ever get her into the other meats, but from vegan to semi-vegetarian isn't too shabby eh?!
Vegetarian is not a problem nor is vegan. It is possible to make many healthy tasty dishes. Add wheat and soy intolerance and things get much more dicey.
I know that it would be too simple for Top Chef but black (or red) beans and rice is moi good, can be tasty and offers a filling and complete dinner.