Vegetarianism: What’s Old is New Again

I was both excited and annoyed by the promo for next week’s Top Chef. They revealed that the Chefs would have to cook for actress, Natalie Portman. But that wasn’t the shocking surprise. When asked about her “likes and dislikes” some astounding news blew everyone away! They didn’t reveal the twist in the promo, but I’m pretty sure I know what it is. Natalie Portman is a vegetarian.

Now, I LOVE Top Chef and have been able to find inspiration in every episode, despite their meat-favoring themes. In 5 seasons, they had yet to feature a vegetarian challenge. Everyone who has tried to cook vegetarian food has been sent home immediately, or at least severely reprimanded. The one time a contestant was forced to use tofu as his main ingredient, he braised it with beef to flavor it and he was commended for his ingenuity. I’m sorry, but if you can’t make tofu taste good without covering it in meat juice, you probably don’t deserve the title of Top Chef. And what about other dietary restrictions? Kosher? Food allergies and lactose intolerance? VEGANISM? If you’ve chosen a lifestyle that eliminates certain foods (or nature has chosen for you) do you deserve to be kicked out of the foodie club?

I’m very excited that the chefs will finally have to make an all vegetarian spread for Portman but I’m very irritated that her diet is such a big deal. For a while, vegetarianism was not only common, it was trendy. And now, with the foodie trend making exotic meats popular, vegetarians at dinner parties and gastropubs are back to nibbling on celery and dinner rolls. I feel like I’m back in Virginia in 1992 getting horrified looks when I refuse a plate of ribs. Recently, I said no thank you to a sausage sample. After the man barraged me with a persistant spiel about how healthy the sausage was, I explianed to him that I am a vegetarian. His response: “HOW DO YOU LIVE?!”

I am preemptively annoyed by all the bitching that will no doubt happen during this episode. I’m sure Mike Isabella (whose face got totally pervy when Portman walked in…can we PLEASE get rid of him already?!) will have plenty to say on the subject. I can only hope that a challenge like this will (re)open people’s minds to the fact that your food can be delicious, culinarily sophisticated and completely meat free.