by MPD
Categories: Eats, Film/TV
Tags: .


As a vegan Top Chef watcher I often feel conflicted – inspired by the artistry, but grossed out by just about everything else. So you can imagine how excited I was when I heard that Natalie Portman would be appearing on the show with a super special vegetarian challenge.

Well, the episode premiered last night and I was must say…I was totally disappointed. Portman (who is currently vegan) was vegetarian when the episode was taped and had one simple request: make a delicious herbivore meal.

While some chefs moaned and groaned, others seemed excited for the challenge and left me curiously awaiting their plant-based masterpieces.

As the chefs prepped their entrées, I noticed the kitchen was void of any familiar vegetarian proteins: no tofu, seitan or tempeh anywhere to be seen. WTF? But I hadn’t given up yet — VEG cuisine uses an array of complex ingredients and proteins.

When the meals were finally completed, I shook my head with frustration. Each dish appeared more like an uninspired vegetable medley than a fine dining entrée. Vegan cuisine is dynamic and bold, not soggy and simple.

As the episode came to a close, I couldn’t help but feel as though vegetarian cuisine had been totally cheated. It’s 2010 and that’s the kind of food you’re going to serve?!  BOO!!

What did you think about the episode? Were you happy with the meals? Chime in and share your review!

  • georgina0912

    I DVR’d the episode and will hopefully watch it tonight, but can’t wait to see the faces of the chefs when Natalie says no meat…does she even say that? No idea. I will find out soon enough.

    • Tommosina

      I was disappointed with the episode, BUT!!! there is always a BUT!!! The Guy who won deserved to win. He cooked something he would eat himself. So the meal looked hearty and filling. They were taken by surprise BUT!!! another BUT!!! there are always ingredients in a meat kitchen that can be adapted. Vegan meat balls and vegan meat loaf and chips and vegetable or mash and vegetable would make a good looking dish. Natalie was one of the Judges on the panel.

  • melody

    I saw the show last night as well, and was disappointed also. The dishes served seemed like a collection of sides, as if no one could think beyond meat for a hearty meal. Of course it was all fancy stuff too, and I’m not into all that fancy cuisine. I normally don’t watch Top Chef, but knew Natalie was going to be on it so I stayed up a little later and tuned in. I was watching for inspiration for my own cooking and ended up yelling at the tv of all the things I could have made with their extensive choices. Of course they are on a time crunch though – so maybe that was the best they could do. I don’t know, but I agree I was a disappointed.

  • Lisa S.

    I know – was wondering that too. Did they decided not to use any proteins, or was it just because none available in kitchen where usually steaks made. Thought that the food looked awful though.

  • Katy

    I was also very disappointed. I was disappointed by their lack of being able to prepare a hearty meal, I was disappointed with their attitudes and I was disappointed that I could get on the show and prepare something much better than what they came up with. I always get so excited about these types of shows (the one this summer with Zooey Deschanel) and they always disappoint. Maybe they should have offered the proteins first and made them come up with something from that (bring out choices of tofu, tempeh, seitan, tvp, etc.). Oh well…. I guess I will just keep wishing and dreaming!

  • alex

    First, I am not a vegetarian, but I still agree with everyone. The thing you have to remember is this was supposed to be a surprise. The producers told the chefs they would be cooking at CraftSteak, got them thinking one thing, then pulled a swichteroo at the last second. The menu at that restaurant doesn’t serve tofu and other vege proteins; it has meat. If the cooks walked in and saw tempeh in the pantry and tofu in the walk-in, they would have known something is up.

  • Jill, The Veggie Queen

    I teach culinary students and believe that any chef should have at least one great vegetarian, or even better vegan, meal up their sleeve. It stretches their creativity and a good chef needs to be creative. Unfortunately, many of them don’t learn great vegetarian or vegan cuisine in culinary school. Hopefully that is changing.

    Don’t watch the show, so can’t comment on it directly. But hearing about underwhelming bad veg dishes does not surprise me at all.

  • Melissa Kay

    Also very disappointed in their dishes and with their attitudes, they just weren’t on ‘top’ of their game.

    Happy Vegging,

    Melissa K.
    @melissak85 Ambassador

  • Artichokey

    I was totally confused by the episode – they said “vegetarian” but it seemed like a vegan gluten-free menu to me (would would be great, if they explained that). Where were the eggs and cheese? Why were there no beans, rice, grains, breads, etc. I was glad about the lentils and polenta, but even the winning dish would have been better with a piece of toast or fried egg on top. There was almost no protein at all.

  • http://none Kelly

    I agree with Artichokey, why were there no beans or grains? How was it going to be filling without those? It makes me sad that this show is going to make everyone think veggies can only eat things like were served on that show last night, when we actually get to eat awesomely!

  • Elaine Vigneault

    I didn’t see the episode, but I’m not surprised.

    Sounds like it’s time for us to find addresses for Top Chef producers and ship them a stack of vegan cookbooks.

  • Mandi

    As far as I’m concerned, any chef that doesn’t have the skill or innovation to prepare a decent plant based meal is no where near the “top”. Top chef should have WAY more veg challenges than it does.

  • erin

    I am looking forward to seeing the episode… but don’t think there’s anything wrong with simple meals void of “fake meat”

    IN raw foods we have very hearty meals with no grains, fake meat, or anything cooked at all ;)

    ocean retreat director

  • James Sklar

    I saw the episode and yes, most chefs on these reality TV cooking shows have a lot of trouble with healthy meals. While I am a fan of tofu, I don’t think seitan and other processed soy products are healthy at all.

    • Elaine G

      I only have one thing to say about this comment: Seitan is NOT processed nor is it soy. It is wheat gluten and extremely healthy as it is very high in protein. It is not, however, for those who are gluten intolerant.

    • Zaldon

      And how exactly is tofu not a processed soy product?

  • kristin

    I was also disappointed. It is the exact kind of meal that I hate to get when I dine out. Some vegetables arranged on the plate to look pretty. And of course, all vegetarians just love mushrooms and eggplant… not.

    @erin – some beans and grains or some pasta would have been nice. I don’t really put those in the category of “fake meat”.

  • ally

    i def think it’s another “haven’t we made more progress? it’s 2009!!” moment. still recall that sentiment when i was told in ‘n out had a veggie burger and discovered it was lettuce, tomato, and their sauce between two toasted buns…

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  • Bunnyv

    I think it was probably just the chefs on that show. On Hell’s Kitchen, the chefs were put on the spot to come up with a veg meal, and they came up with some pretty good looking plates, and they looked like meals! Those people (Iron Chef) looked like a bunch of amateurs.

  • Natasha

    I’ve been vegetarian for almost a year and vegan for a few months. *I* was capable of more inspired veg meals when I first cut meat out and I don’t consider myself an aspiring chef. Heck, my 8 year old niece could’ve come up with something more interesting and filling. More and more people are adopting a vegetarian lifestyle – chefs would be wise to wake up and start learning how to cook truly good and filling vegetarian dishes.

  • VeggieTart

    I was also disappointed by the uninspired (well, most of them were pretty) dishes. Were there no grains or beans in that kitchen? True, they were time-crunched and had to make do with what they had, but still! I bet they had it at a steakhouse just to pull the switcheroo on the chefs.

    Still, I’d like to see more veg challenges.

  • Yasmin

    All of the meals were uninspired. The episode with Zoey Deschanel was more creative. Maybe the chefs were tired. Still, as a vegan ans always having to order side-dishes, the episode was a typical stereotype of my dining experience. Maybe next time.

    I loved the vegan corn-bread stuffing of last year and Carla’s pecan-crusted tofu–and if I recall those were made on non-veg challenges.

  • MM

    I saw the show and believe that the producers chose to say “vegetarian” on camera but instructed the chefs to aim for vegan off camera. I don’t believe that out of 7 chefs there would be a complete absence of dairy. Just my $.02.

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  • serafina

    I recently turned to a vegan diet and I find my creative outlook on food has become highly enhanced. I am thinking in ways that I never have thought before. I am an avid Top Chef watcher and I was utterly dissapointed that these “great Chefs” couldn’t even comprehend the idea that a vegetarian/vegan dish could actually be beautiful, delicious, and satisfying. It did make me a little upset, because it kind of gave the message that a plant based diet cannot be fine dining. I do agree that the chef that one deservedly won, but the episode was an overall disater when it came to bringing a new outlook on vegetarian/vegan diets.

  • ronit

    if i remember correctly, the point wasn’t just to make a good vegetarian meal, it was to feature a vegetable as one would a steak at a steakhouse.