I’ve been addicted to Top Chef for about 3 years now. It’s quite possibly the best food-porn show on television. When judges decide on which dishes are the winners and which are the losers, they take into account presentation, execution, and how successfully the contestants followed the directions of that particular challenge. But the main measuring stick is always flavor, of course.
For those who didn’t catch the episode, the contestants spent a night in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Early in the morning, they split into two teams, and had to create breakfast dishes that represented the diets of either a Tyrannosaurus Rex or a Brontosaurus. More specifically, the T-Rex team could only cook with animal-based foods, and the Brontosaurus team could only cook with plant-based foods. The winner of the previous challenge, one of the team captains, was given the opportunity to choose which dinosaur her team would represent. She made the fatal mistake of thinking that if she chose meat, she would also get to use herbs and vegetables, but that wasn’t the case.
To make a long story short, the Brontosaurus team won by a long shot. The plant-based options provided a much more diverse set of flavors to work with and combine, while the T-Rex team was saddled with just meat, eggs, and cream, a very limited set of options in terms of flavor.
The point I’m trying to make here is that it’s easy to do without meat, but nearly impossible to do without plants. Most of the delicious flavors you think about in the meat dishes you love would be more or less unpalatable without plant-based foods to give them flavor. But look at the plethora of colorful and delicious-looking dishes the Top Chef Brontosaurus Team whipped up:
Fresh corn grits with stewed peppers and salsa verde
Banana parfait with seasonal fruit and tandoori maple (the winning dish)
Yes, the last two items are unorthodox for a breakfast, but I’d rather eat them in the morning than a frittata with no vegetables in them or bacon and eggs with no seasoning. Here are the T-Rex contestants’ dishes. The bland color palate of browns and yellows is boring and unappetizing.
Mini Frittatas with Bacon & Cheddar, Ham & Cheese, and Chevre
Salmon with Shrimp and Apple-Smoked Bacon Sauce (This one actually looks pretty good, although the combination of salmon and bacon would probably be too salty)
Steak and Eggs with Hollandaise
Braised Bacon and Hard-Boiled Eggs
Would the plant-based dishes be tastier with meat added to them? Maybe, maybe not. Would the animal-based dishes benefit from the vibrant colors, textures, and flavor profiles of various vegetables and fruits? Absolutely.