|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||18|
|No. of episodes||274 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||42 minutes|
|Production company||Magical Elves Productions|
|Distributor||NBCUniversal Television Distribution|
|Original release||March 8, 2006 –|
Top Chef is an American reality competition television series that premiered on March 8, 2006, on Bravo. The show features chefs competing against each other in 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 company that created Project Runway.
The show has spawned multiple spin-off series, including Top Chef Masters, featuring established award-winning chefs, and Top Chef Just Desserts, featuring pastry chefs. Top Chef Junior, which features contestants in their early teens, premiered in October 2017 on Universal Kids. A spin-off featuring home cooks, Top Chef Amateurs, premiered in July 2021. 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 US$100,000 for the first five seasons, which was then increased to $125,000 from the sixth season onward. The prize was temporarily increased to $200,000 for the show's eighth season, Top Chef: All-Stars, and $250,000 for the seventeenth and eighteenth seasons, Top Chef: All-Stars L.A. and Top Chef: Portland. 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 functioning pop-up restaurant within a set time limit and budget, selecting and creating the name, theme, décor, and menu. Typically, one team member is designated the role of "executive chef", who is responsible for managing the kitchen and expediting food, while another team member is designated as "front of house", who is responsible for training the waitstaff and managing the dining room. Top Chef: Chicago featured not only Restaurant Wars, but a "Wedding Wars" challenge as well. Top Chef: Kentucky introduced the challenge much earlier in the season, during its fourth episode, and utilized three teams instead of the usual two.
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, members of the contestants' family, or celebrity chefs. The winner is selected based on the overall quality of their meal. There is typically no Quickfire Challenge during this episode.
Last Chance Kitchen
The Last Chance Kitchen is a web series, first introduced in Top Chef: Texas, featuring challenges in which the contestants compete for a chance to re-enter the main competition. Each week, two or more previously eliminated 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. Initially, only the winner of the final episode of Last Chance Kitchen returned to compete. However, beginning with Top Chef: Colorado, the format was changed to allow two chances to re-enter.
|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 City|
|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 City|
|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||Joe Flamm||Adrienne Cheatham||Fatima Ali||December 7, 2017 – March 8, 2018||Colorado|
|16||Kelsey Barnard Clark||Sara Bradley||Kelsey Barnard Clark||December 6, 2018 – March 14, 2019||Kentucky|
|17||Melissa King||Bryan Voltaggio||Stephanie Cmar||Melissa King||March 19 – June 18, 2020||Los Angeles, California|
|18||Gabe Erales||Shota Nakajima||Dawn Burrell||Shota Nakajima||April 1 – July 1, 2021||Portland, Oregon|
Top Chef Masters
Top Chef Masters features established, award-winning chefs, in contrast to Top Chef, which typically features younger, up-and-coming chefs. The series debuted on June 10, 2009, with contestants including Rick Bayless, John Besh, Michael Chiarello, Wylie Dufresne, Jonathan Waxman 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
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
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
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
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
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 features young chefs between the ages of 9–14. It is hosted by actress Vanessa Lachey, with Top Chef Masters and Top Chef Duels host Curtis Stone serving as its head judge. The first season of Top Chef Junior premiered on October 13, 2017, and its second season premiered on September 8, 2018.
Top Chef Amateurs
Top Chef Amateurs is a spin-off featuring home cooks competing in head-to-head challenges drawn from past seasons of Top Chef. Production of the show began in October 2020 in Portland, Oregon, following filming of the original series' eighteenth season. The show was hosted by Gail Simmons and premiered on July 1, 2021.
Top Chef Family Style
Top Chef Family Style is a spin-off featuring young chefs teaming up with an adult family member to compete. The series was ordered in May 2021 by Peacock. It will be hosted by Meghan Trainor with Marcus Samuelsson serving as head judge.
Top Chef University
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
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.
Reception and awards
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.
|Season||Season premiere||Season finale|
|1||March 8, 2006||1.30||May 24, 2006||1.50|
|2||October 18, 2006||1.87||January 31, 2007||3.89|
|3||June 13, 2007||2.02||October 3, 2007||3.08|
|4||March 12, 2008||2.26||June 11, 2008||3.51|
|5||November 12, 2008||2.70||February 25, 2009||3.74|
|6||August 19, 2009||2.60||December 9, 2009||3.40|
|7||June 16, 2010||1.80||September 15, 2010||2.70|
|8||December 1, 2010||1.70||March 30, 2011||2.77|
|9||November 2, 2011||1.59||February 29, 2012||1.85|
|10||November 7, 2012||N/A||February 27, 2013||1.85|
|11||October 2, 2013||N/A||February 5, 2014||1.70|
|12||October 15, 2014||1.09||February 11, 2015||0.96|
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