Saturday, December 18, 2010

Top Chef All Stars: Plants vs. Animals

You know when you learn a new word, you start seeing and hearing that word everywhere? Well, becoming vegan is somewhat similar, in that you perceive subtle nods toward veganism in seemingly unrelated things. I have been accused of reaching in order to make these connections, but I happen to disagree. Veganism has pervaded our cultural consciousness!

The latest instance of this happened on last week’s Top Chef All Stars. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, Top Chef is a to die for cooking competition; it is to food, what Project Runway is to fashion. Top Chef All Stars is an even more spectacular iteration that assembled 18 former competitors from the past 7 seasons, who came thisclose to winning the Top Chef title. As you can imagine, things get pretty intense.

The premise of last week’s challenge revolved around the group’s visit to the Museum of Natural History in New York. With what do you inevitably connect the Museum of Natural History? Dinosaurs, of course! The competitors were divided into 2 teams, Tyrannosaurus Rex and Brontosaurus. Tiffani, the winner of this week’s Quickfire Challenge, was given the advantage of choosing whether she would like to cook breakfast for the carnivorous T-Rex, or the plant-loving Brontosaurus. She, of course, chose T-Rex, because chefs love their proteins. With shows like this, there’s always a twist, and in this case it was the definition of the word “carnivore.” As Tiffani explained, “I made an assumption that a carnivore was an omnivore. In order to make things delicious, you need acid, you need herbs.” So, while Team T-Rex found nothing but meat, poultry, fish, and dairy in their refrigerator, the Brontosauri were exulting in the bounty of their kitchen: mangoes, papayas, strawberries, oranges, whole grains, flours, artichokes, greens, legumes, blueberries, and more. 

What stood out to me most in this challenge was the question of variety. People always ask me if I get bored with the food I eat, because I’m so “limited.” The answer of course is no, and the competing menus are an excellent example of why. Team T-Rex made steak and eggs, limp pork belly topped with bland eggs, undercooked egg frittatas with cheese, and salmon with salty shrimp sauce. Judge Gail Simmons described the menu as “unoriginal.” Team Brontosaurus served tomato gazpacho, roasted banana parfait with fresh fruit, and gnocchi with mushrooms and spinach. Simmons described this menu as “beautiful, fresh, and bright.” Now, I can anticipate the naysayers who will cry that humans are not carnivores, they are omnivores. And this is true. However, what this episode brought to light is that plants elevate meat and dairy, but the opposite is not true. Team T-Rex’s dishes needed the addition of whole grain toast, lemon juice for the Hollandaise, and vegetables for the frittata. But, Team Brontosaurus’s dishes were complete in themselves. Gnocchi with mushrooms and spinach does not call out for bacon; it might taste good, but it is not essential. Caramelized bananas do not need cream to complete them. And tomato gazpacho would be entirely wrong with cheese on top. Fruits, vegetables, and grains make delicious, satisfying, and sustaining meals all by themselves. This is why I feel so nourished by a vegan diet, because I am giving my body everything it needs, in the most simple and natural way possible.

No comments:

Post a Comment