Let's face it: you couldn't have "Top Chef" without animals. Whether they end up on the plate or serve as inspiration for the contestants, animals are at the heart of many of the show's most memorable challenges. From the original series to the "Top Chef Masters" spinoff, here are some animal-centric challenges that definitely aren't for the birds.
In the second episode of the fourth season, the chefs were split into five teams of three. Each team was assigned an animal and tasked with creating dishes inspired by that animal's diet in the wild. The event took place at the Lincoln Park Zoo, and the animal inspirations included bears, gorillas, lions, penguins, and even a vulture.
Team Penguin and Team Vulture took top marks, with the overall win going to Andrew of Team Penguin for his squid ceviche and his citrus-mint "glacier" dessert. Sadly, Valerie got sent back into the wild after her Team Gorilla offering of black olive blini with beets was declared the worst dish of the night.
In Season 5, the chefs split into three teams of three people each for a "down on the farm" challenge. Tasked with creating a seasonal lunch based on the fresh produce and various animals raised on the farm, the cast split into Team Chicken (Carla, Jamie, and Stefan), Team Lamb (Ariane, Hosea, and Leah), and Team Pork (Fabio, Jeff, and Radhika).
Team Chicken won overall, thanks to clever dishes like lemon and herb-roasted chicken and nectarine-strawberry tartlets with thyme and lemon zest. Ariane, who was on Team Lamb, got sent packing.
Who says all "Top Chef" challenges need to be inspired by living animals? In the case of one memorable All Stars episode, the chefs were split into two teams inspired by dinosaurs. Team T-Rex could use meat and eggs (and dairy, though some fans just couldn't imagine a real carnivorous dinosaur drinking much milk), while Team Brontosaurus (which should have been called Team Apatosaurus) could use fruits, veggies, and grains. Angelo, Marcel, and Richard teamed up to make a banana parfait that won the day, while Jennifer freaked out on the judges after they dissed her "wet bacon" dish of braised pork and hard boiled eggs. Shocking everyone, she got sent home.
For many people, there aren't many proteins worth eating outside of fish, pork, beef, and chicken. But in one memorable "Top Chef Masters" challenge from Season 2, the chefs had to work with exotic proteins like kangaroo, goat, and more. Susur Lee won the day with a dish of poached monkfish and black chicken, while Jody Adams made a spiced goat that didn't cut the mustard.