What does it take to be a master chef? For years, the upscale culinary scene rejected vegan cooking in favor of more traditional meat and dairy-centric cuisines, but plant-based chefs worldwide have turned this doubt into a challenge. MasterChef Portugual contestant Teresa Colaco proved that a plant-based chef can truly be considered a master chef when she snagged first place in the competition, showcasing the culinary potential of vegan and plant-based cuisine.

“Winning MasterChef Portugal was the achievement of a goal. It was an endurance race and reaching the finish line in the first place was incredible,” Colaco said in a statement. "MasterChef Portugal represented a lot of learning, above all.”

Noting her disadvantage during the competition, Colaco never felt discouraged by her plant-based perspective. Instead, the chef presented judges with an exciting selection of meatless dishes typically unheard of in the TV competition. Her victory signified that vegan cooking can be taken seriously on the world stage.

“I know that I leave for this journey at a great disadvantage compared to my colleagues, all of whom are excellent cooks and master animal protein and Portuguese cuisine,” Colaco wrote on her Instagram at the beginning of the competition. “I don't master one or the other, my forte is vegetables, legumes, algae, and some strange ingredients in between, which few people here know about.”

Despite winning her MasterChef title, Colaco revealed she does not plan to slow down any time soon. In the statement, she claimed that “this is just the beginning” and that she hope to “take plant-based food as far as possible,” inspiring chefs everywhere to consider plant-based techniques in upscale cuisine.

Vegan Chef Forfeits After Judges Demand He Cook Meat

Chef Colaco’s victory occurred shortly after Chef Alex Lenghel left MasterChef Romania in protest. The plant-based chef participated in two successful rounds of the cooking competition, but when the judges demanded that he cook meat during the elimination round of the competition, he refused. The chef and professional athlete joined the show as the country's first vegan contestant.

During the episode, the judges required that he cook a beef dish and when they wouldn’t budge, he explained that he would not compromise his ethics and forfeited the competition. Even though MasterChef has received criticism for its excessive meat content, Lenghel hoped to win against the odds to prove that vegan cooking would not compromise his performance.

“The vegan lifestyle I follow now made cooking part of my life, and there was no chance to make any compromise and go back to cooking meat,” Lenghel said. “MasterChef, it was a big challenge for me, competing with people passionate [sic] about cooking.”

America’s Cooking Shows Go Plant-Based

Over the last year, plant-based chefs have entered into more cooking competition shows than ever before. Last summer, Hell’s Kitchen invited its first two plant-based chefs, Josie Clemes and Emily Hersh, to compete on the grueling cooking show. The two plant-based chefs showcased the talents and promise of plant-based cooking against the harsh criticism of Chef Gordon Ramsey, who has historically been vocal about his distaste for vegan foods.

More recently, celebrity Chef Bobby Flay invited two plant-based chefs to compete against him on the first vegan episode of Beat Bobby Flay, which featured Temearra Dyson and Adyre Mason in the historic showdown. Following two rounds, the judges declared that Dyson’s vegan cooking beat Flay in his own kitchen. Dyson, the founder of Souley Vegan, proved that plant-based cooking could outmatch one of the world’s most recognizable chefs at his own game.

Sandra Oh and 20 Others It Might Surprise You to Learn Are Plant-Based

More From The Beet