Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Where Are All the Vegetarian TV Shows?

Published On 01/26/2018
N ot long after Michael Symon and his sous-chef lugged half a veal carcass across Kitchen Stadium and Cat Cora cleaved the head off a barracuda with two hands in Iron Chef America's title sequence, the Chairman unveiled the day's secret ingredient: broccoli. The 2010 episode seemed ordinary, until Alton Brown introduced a "special twist." Eight seasons in, this would be the Food Network competition show's first vegetarian battle.
Pitted against Iron Chef legend Masaharu Morimoto was Amanda Cohen, who had opened the 18-seat restaurant Dirt Candy in New York's East Village hardly a year prior to getting the casting call. Fog plumed from the dry ice machine and fell over the sides of a table bursting with purple and green broccoli, broccolini and rapini, and swirled around the two competing chefs. If Cohen looked nervous, it's because she was. Along with her entire restaurant staff of two, she'd brought a heavy burden with her: she'd be standing in for vegetarians everywhere.
"I felt like it was a huge, huge responsibility," recalled Cohen in a phone interview. At least on network and cable television, vegetarianism has always been underrepresented, and TV has yet to produce a wildly famous, meat-abstaining personality on the level of Julia Child or Anthony Bourdain (who called vegetarianism "an affront to all that I stand for" in Kitchen Confidential). When vegetarian and vegan chefs do appear on cooking competitions, they tend to be introduced as foils to "normal" chefs. "Vegetarians never do well on these shows," Cohen said.
She dissected the episode in her comic-strip-style cookbook, depicting her hand-wringing over whether to go on the show using the trope of the shoulder angel and devil. "Focus on the restaurant," says the angel. "You could be the first vegetarian to win Iron Chef," whispers the devil. Across the next two panels, she grabs the angel, shoves it in her mouth, and swallows, and then frets, Does that mean I'm not a vegetarian anymore?
Alton Brown on 'Iron Chef America' | Food Network
Nikki Dinki on 'Food Network Star' | Food Network
Gordon Ramsay on 'Hell's Kitchen' | Fox
go90's 'High Cuisine' | Nika Vekilova
'Cooked' on Netflix | Karen Ballard/Netflix
Ayinde Howell of 'Like a Vegan' | Cooking Channel
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