Top Chef is an American reality competition television series which premiered on March 8, 2006, on Bravo. The show features chefs competing against each other in various culinary challenges. They are judged by a panel of professional chefs and other notables from the food and wine industry with one or more contestants eliminated in each episode. The show is produced by Magical Elves Productions, the same company that created Project Runway.
The show has spawned multiple spinoff series, including Top Chef Masters, featuring established award-winning chefs; and Top Chef: Just Desserts, featuring pastry chefs. Another show, Top Chef Junior, featuring contestants in their early teens, premiered in October 2017 on Universal Kids. Numerous international adaptations of Top Chef have also been produced.
Top Chef is a cooking show that uses a progressive elimination format. The beginning of each season starts with twelve to nineteen professional chefs selected through auditions. The chefs are brought to the season's host city or state, which typically inspires themes throughout the season. The chefs live in a provided apartment or house during the course of the season, with limited access to outside communication. Each episode, the chefs participate in a Quickfire Challenge and an Elimination Challenge (described below). The winner of the Quickfire Challenge is typically granted immunity from elimination, a prize, or another benefit for the following Elimination Challenge. The loser of the Elimination Challenge, as the name suggests, is eliminated from the competition. This format continues until two or three chefs remain. Each finalist is challenged to create a full-course meal; the chef with the best meal as determined by the judges is declared the "Top Chef" of the season. Towards the end of the season, when only four or five chefs remain, the show moves to another location to finish out the competition.
In the Quickfire Challenge, chefs must cook a dish that meets certain requirements (for example, using specific ingredients or inspiring a certain taste) or participate in a culinary-related challenge (for example, a mise en place relay race or a taste testing contest). They are usually given an hour or less to complete these tasks. The Quickfire challenge traditionally begins with the host saying "Your time starts now" and ending with the host saying "Hands up, utensils down". A guest judge selects one or more chefs as the best in the challenge. Early in the season, the winning chef(s) are granted immunity from the episode's Elimination Challenge. As the number of contestants dwindle, immunity is withdrawn and instead the winner receives an advantage (such as being the team leader for a team challenge or getting first pick of ingredients) or a prize (such as chef's knives, wine, or cash.) To emphasize the culture and environment of the sixth season's Las Vegas setting, the show introduced "High-stakes Quickfire Challenges", which features extravagant rewards, usually a large cash prize upwards of US$10,000. High-stakes Quickfire Challenges continued onward in further seasons. The twelfth season of Top Chef introduced the "Sudden Death Quickfire Challenge", where the chef with the least successful dish faces immediate elimination unless they win a cook-off against another competitor.
In the Elimination Challenge, the chefs prepare one or more dishes to meet the challenge requirements, which often includes a specific theme and are usually more complex and require more time to execute than a Quickfire Challenge. Elimination Challenges may be individual challenges or require chefs to work in teams; some may require the contestants to produce several courses. Teams may be selected by the remaining chefs, but are more often determined by a random process, such as "drawing knives" from a knife block. The time limit for an Elimination Challenge may range from a few hours to a few days, which typically includes preparation and planning time. Ingredients for Elimination Challenges generally allow chefs access to both the Top Chef pantry and the ingredients they previously purchased at a grocery store, within a specified budget and shopping time limit. However, certain challenges may provide specific ingredients or limit the type or number of ingredients that can be used, while others require non-traditional methods for obtaining ingredients (such as asking people door-to-door or fishing). After shopping, the contestants will cook for up to four judges, usually including at least one guest judge. In most cases, the contestants cook for a group of guest diners as well.
After the Elimination Challenge, the chefs report to the Judges' Table, where the judges will deliberate on their choices for the best and worst dishes. The judges may also consider guests' comments, if available. The top individuals or teams are called in, and may be asked questions about their dishes or preparation before they are notified of their placement. One or more chefs are named the winner of the challenge and may be awarded an additional prize by the guest judge. The same procedure is repeated with the poorest performing chefs or teams, after which similar discussion takes place. From this group, one or more chefs are chosen for elimination, with the host asking the chef(s) to leave by saying "Please pack your knives and go." This is usually followed by a knife packing sequence for the eliminated chef(s), with a voice-over of their final thoughts about their performance, at the close of the episode. According to the credits, some elimination decisions are made in consultation with the show's producers.
The prize money awarded to the Top Chef was $100,000 for the first five seasons, which was then increased to $125,000 from the sixth season onward. In the show's eighth season, Top Chef: All-Stars, the prize was temporarily increased to $200,000. Furthermore, beginning with Top Chef: Los Angeles, a fan vote is held each season to determine the Fan Favorite, which features an additional $10,000 prize.
Midway through each season, the contestants participate in a "Restaurant Wars" (or similarly named) Elimination Challenge. They are split into two teams, created by the winner of the previous Quickfire Challenge, or by drawing knives. In these teams, the chefs must transform an empty space into a restaurant within a set time limit and budget, selecting and creating the name, theme, décor, and menu. The fourth season of Top Chef featured not only Restaurant Wars, but a "Wedding Wars" challenge as well.
In the final Elimination Challenge, the two or three remaining chefs must prepare a multiple course dinner with the assistance of sous chefs. These sous chefs could be previously eliminated contestants or celebrity chefs. The winner is selected based on the overall quality of their meal. There is no Quickfire Challenge during this episode.
The Last Chance Kitchen is a web series, first introduced in Top Chef: Texas, featuring challenges in which the ousted chefs compete for a chance to re-enter the main competition. Each week, two or more chefs compete against each other in the Top Chef kitchen, with the results judged solely by Tom Colicchio. The winner(s) of each week moves on to face the next eliminated Top Chef contestant(s), while the loser is eliminated from the competition for good. The champion of the Last Chance Kitchen returns to compete in the season finale.
|Season||Winner||Runner(s)-up||Fan Favorite||Air Dates||Filming Location|
|1||Harold Dieterle||Tiffani Faison||N/A||March 8 – May 24, 2006||San Francisco, California|
|2||Ilan Hall||Marcel Vigneron||Sam Talbot||October 18, 2006 – January 31, 2007||Los Angeles, California|
|3||Hung Huynh||Dale Levitski||Casey Thompson||Casey Thompson||June 6 – October 13, 2007||Miami, Florida|
|4||Stephanie Izard||Lisa Fernandes||Richard Blais||Stephanie Izard||March 12 – June 11, 2008||Chicago, Illinois|
|5||Hosea Rosenberg||Stefan Richter||Carla Hall||Fabio Viviani||November 12, 2008 – March 4, 2009||New York, New York|
|6||Michael Voltaggio||Bryan Voltaggio||Kevin Gillespie||Kevin Gillespie||August 19 – December 16, 2009||Las Vegas, Nevada|
|7||Kevin Sbraga||Ed Cotton||Angelo Sosa||Tiffany Derry||June 16 – September 15, 2010||Washington, D.C.|
|8||Richard Blais||Mike Isabella||Carla Hall||December 1, 2010 – April 6, 2011||New York, New York|
|9||Paul Qui||Sarah Grueneberg||Chris Crary||November 2, 2011 – March 7, 2012||Texas|
|10||Kristen Kish||Brooke Williamson||Sheldon Simeon||November 7, 2012 – February 27, 2013||Seattle, Washington|
|11||Nicholas Elmi||Nina Compton||Nina Compton||October 2, 2013 – February 5, 2014||New Orleans, Louisiana|
|12||Mei Lin||Gregory Gourdet||N/A||October 15, 2014 – February 11, 2015||Boston, Massachusetts|
|13||Jeremy Ford||Amar Santana||Isaac Toups||December 2, 2015 – March 17, 2016||California|
|14||Brooke Williamson||Shirley Chung||Sheldon Simeon||December 1, 2016 – March 2, 2017||Charleston, South Carolina|
|15||Joseph Flamm||Adrienne Cheatham||Fatima Ali||December 7, 2017 – March 8, 2018||Colorado|
On June 6, 2007, as part of the buildup for Season 3, Bravo aired a special charity episode called "4-Star All-Stars", which awarded $20,000 to the charity of the winning team's choice. The show brought together Season 1 contestants Harold Dieterle, Tiffani Faison, Dave Martin, and Stephen Asprinio, and Season 2 contestants Ilan Hall, Marcel Vigneron, Sam Talbot, and Elia Aboumrad. The show format was kept the same, with a Quickfire Challenge to start, followed by an Elimination Challenge. The show was filmed in Miami, Florida, the setting for the upcoming season. The Season 1 competitors won, who donated their winnings to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
On December 6, 2007, a special holiday-themed episode was aired, bringing selected chefs from the first three seasons back for a chance to win a prize of $20,000. Padma Lakshmi presided as host, with Ted Allen, Tom Colicchio, and Gail Simmons presiding as judges. The following chefs participated: Tiffani Faison and Stephen Asprinio (Season 1); Marcel Vigneron, Betty Fraser, and Josie Smith-Malave (Season 2); and Chris "CJ" Jacobsen, Tre Wilcox, and Sandee Birdsong (Season 3). The special was shot in Chicago, Illinois. The first 2 eliminated chefs were Sandee and Stephen. The second 2 eliminated chefs were Betty and Josie. The third 2 eliminated chefs were Marcel and CJ. In the end, Tiffani defeated Tre to receive the $20,000 prize, after cooking one final course to break the tie.
The Top Chef All-Stars Dinner special, which aired on November 4, 2009, was a reunion dinner hosted by Season 5 competitor Fabio Viviani. The guests included several past Top Chef contestants, including Harold Dieterle and Tiffani Faison from Season 1; Ilan Hall and Marcel Vigneron from Season 2; Hung Huynh, Dale Levitski, and Casey Thompson from Season 3; Lisa Fernandes and Richard Blais from Season 4; and Stefan Richter and Carla Hall from Season 5.
Top Chef Masters features established, award-winning chefs, in contrast to Top Chef, which features younger, up-and-coming chefs. The series debuted on June 10, 2009, with contestants including Rick Bayless, John Besh, Michael Chiarello, Wylie Dufresne, and Hubert Keller. As of 2013, five seasons have been produced and aired. During its first two seasons, food journalist Kelly Choi hosted the show, while restaurant critic Gael Greene, culinary expert and Saveur editor-in-chief James Oseland, and food critic Jay Rayner served as judges. Beginning with the third season, celebrity chef Curtis Stone replaced Choi as host.
Top Chef: Just Desserts is a spin-off of the Top Chef format featuring pastry chefs. The series was announced by Bravo on October 25, 2009. The show was hosted by Top Chef regular Gail Simmons. The judging panel included James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini, Top Chef Masters finalist Hubert Keller, and DailyCandy's "editor-at-large" Dannielle Kyrillos. The show debuted on Bravo on September 15, 2010, following the seventh season finale of Top Chef. The series was cancelled after two seasons.
Top Chef: Healthy Showdown is a special webisode series aired in 2011 sponsored by Healthy Choice. It featured former Top Chef contestants Sara Nguyen (Season 3), Ryan Scott (Season 4), Casey Thompson (Season 3, Season 8), and Tre Wilcox (Season 3, Season 8) competing in a series of Quickfire Challenges to win $25,000 and inspire a Top Chef line of Healthy Choice entrées. The series was hosted by Curtis Stone; Ryan was declared the winner of the competition.
Life After Top Chef is a spin-off featuring former Top Chef contestants Richard Blais, Jennifer Carroll, Spike Mendelsohn, and Fabio Viviani, which focuses on various aspects of their lives, from managing and opening a restaurant to dealing with family dynamics and personal issues. It premiered on October 3, 2012.
Top Chef Duels brings back contestants from past seasons of Top Chef and Top Chef Masters, pitting them against each other in head-to-head challenges. The winner of each match-up advanced to the season finale, where one chef received $100,000. The series premiered on August 6, 2014.
Top Chef Junior is a spin-off series originally ordered in 2008 for an eight-episode run on Bravo. The show had never aired, nor is it known if any episodes were produced at that time. However, nine years later, Top Chef Junior was mentioned as part of the initial lineup for Universal Kids, an NBCUniversal-owned children's channel launched on September 9, 2017. The series will consist of 14 episodes and feature 12 young chefs, aged 9-14. It will be hosted by actress Vanessa Lachey, with Top Chef Masters and Top Chef Duels host Curtis Stone serving as its head judge. Top Chef Junior premiered on October 13, 2017.
There have been a number of local versions of Top Chef around the world based on the original American format. Licensing of the format is handled by NBCUniversal Television Distribution.
|Country||Local title||Host(s)||Judges||Channel(s)||Year(s) aired|
|Middle East and North Africa (in Arabic)||Top Chef||Siham Tueni (season 1)
Joumana Mrad (season 2)
MBC Masr 2
|Canada (in English)||Top Chef Canada||Thea Andrews (season 1)
Lisa Ray (season 2–4)
Eden Grinshpan (season 5)
|Food Network Canada||2011–2014, 2017–present|
|Chile||Top Chef||Julián Elfenbein||
|El Salvador||Top Chef El Salvador||Marcela Santamaria (season 1–2)||
|Finland||Top Chef Suomi||Pipsa Hurmerinta||
|Top Chef||Stéphane Rotenberg
Sandrine Corman (season 1)
Agathe Lecaron (season 2)
|Greece||Top Chef||Nadia Boule||
|Indonesia||Top Chef Indonesia||Farah Quinn||
|Italy||Top Chef Italia||N/A||
|Mexico||Top Chef México||Ana Claudia Talancón||
||Canal Sony, NBC Universo||2016–present|
|Panama||Top Chef Panamá||Karen Guerra
|Poland||Top Chef (season 1–7)||Grzegorz Łapanowski||
|Top Chef. Gwiazdy od kuchni (spin-off)||Maciej Rock|
|Portugal||Top Chef||Silvia Alberto||
|Romania||Top Chef||Alina Pușcaș||
|South Africa (in English)||Top Chef South Africa||Lorna Maseko||
|Thailand||Top Chef Thailand||Pitipat Kutragule||
|United States (in Spanish)||Top Chef Estrellas||Aylin Mujica||
|Vietnam||Top Chef Vietnam: Đầu Bếp Đỉnh||Nguyễn Võ Lan Trinh||
Top Chef University is a comprehensive online culinary school involving 12 courses and over 200 in-depth video-lessons. The program takes participants through a structured program of the basics (knife skills, kitchen set-up, ingredients) to advanced culinary techniques (sous-vide, molecular gastronomy). The instructors at Top Chef University consist of the series' most successful and popular former contestants. Enrollment costs $25 for a monthly membership and $200 for an annual membership.
Top Chef: The Game is a computer game released by Brighter Minds for PCs. It challenges players to create the best dish from items in a virtual pantry. Games magazine gave the game an unfavorable review, calling it a "quick cash-in... for an undiscriminating audience."
In efforts to make certain dishes available to viewers who watch Top Chef, but do not have time to prepare those dishes themselves, Schwan's Home Service started offering Top Chef—branded frozen meals in late 2009.
On March 20, 2008, Chronicle Books released Top Chef: The Cookbook, with a foreword by Tom Colicchio. On September 30, 2009, Chronicle Books released Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook, with a foreword by Padma Lakshmi. On July 14, 2010, Chronicle Books released How to Cook Like a Top Chef, with a foreword by Rick Bayless.
Top Chef was nominated at the 59th Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Cinematography for Reality Programming and Outstanding Reality-Competition Program for its second season. Top Chef won the award for Outstanding Picture Editing For Reality Programming at the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards. Top Chef won the award for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program at the 62nd Primetime Emmy Awards, defeating The Amazing Race, which had won the award every year since the category's inception in 2003.
Ratings of Top Chef premieres:
|Season premiere||# of Viewers in Millions||Release Date||+/- from previous|
|Season 9 premiere||1.6||November 2, 2011||– 0%|
|Season 8 premiere||1.7||December 1, 2010||– 5.8%|
|Season 7 premiere||1.8||June 16, 2010||– 30.7%|
|Season 6 premiere||2.6||August 19, 2009||– 3.7%|
|Season 5 premiere||2.7||November 12, 2008||+ 19.4%|
|Season 4 premiere||2.26||March 12, 2008||+ 11.8%|
|Season 3 premiere||2.02||June 13, 2007||+ 8%|
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