Top Chef has arguably been the biggest (and some might say greatest) culinary competition television program to ever exist. What once was a show that featured a mixture of home cooks, professional chefs and culinary students has now become a force to be reckoned with by including James Beard winners and many others at the top of their food game who all vie for the $100,000 grand prize. Some seasons of the Emmy-winning show did much better than others and stand out in our heads all this time later as ones that we want to watch again while others we wish never existed.
With the announcement that the upcoming Top Chef 17 will be its second All Stars edition, we thought it would be fun to take a look back and rank every season that has aired so far from worst to best. Would studly Tom Colicchio and dreamy Padma Lakshmi agree with our choices? Who knows, but this list is something that is good to peruse in case you are looking to binge watch this program in the near future. Take a look.
16: Top Chef: Texas (Season 9)
Good lord this season was a mess in so many different ways. This was the first time that Top Chef did the whole travel through the state type thing that turned out to be more successful in later seasons. The problem with the Texas version was the stereotypical challenges, completely unlikable cast (minus Grayson Schmitz and Edward Lee) and bullying of Beverly Kim at the hands of some of the other women competing which was disgusting to witness. Paul Qui was sort of the obvious winner from the get but everything that transpired in between was just pure boredom without a hint of anything interesting going on.
15. Top Chef: Los Angeles (Season 2)
It’s interesting looking back on this season with 2020 eyes. Season 2 focused more on the drama between, once again, a very unlikable group of people that eventually led to culinary bad boy Marcel Vigneron having his head forcibly shaven by fellow competitor Cliff Crooks during a wild night. Marcel didn’t make himself look good at all throughout the course of the competition but no one deserved to have that happen to them and I’m surprised that the show continued on after that incident. Also Ilan Hall, who primarily cooked the same type of dishes over and over again, is the least inspiring winner to date. Meh.
14. Top Chef: New Orleans (Season 11)
It saddens me to put this season so low because most of it was fun to watch. Top Chef has really done a great job in the later years of highlighting the city or state they are in which they expertly did with New Orleans. They also had some wonderful cast members to watch including Shirley Chung and Carrie Mashaney. The problems were that this cast was way too big (19 competitors!) and the eventual winner, Nicholas Elmi, left a bad taste in fans mouths as many (myself included) felt that runner up Nina Compton deserved to win. Nick wasn’t a bad guy, but he was a middle of the pack competitor that was a hothead in the kitchen and performed much worse than Nina did. Once again… meh.
13. Top Chef: D.C. (Season 7)
I liked the idea of putting Top Chef in a politically-charged environment like D.C. It was an interesting thought but it was a fail through and through when it actually happened. There were some fun challenges, like the NASA one and this season produced some really likable people like Tiffany Derry, but what made D.C. rank so low was the unbelievably boring final four (Ed Cotton, Angelo Sosa, Kelly Liken and winner Kevin Sbraga). It was a race to who really cares at that point as each person (minus the polarizing Angelo) weren’t really memorable as they made their way to the finish line.
12. Top Chef: San Francisco (Season 1)
My god this show has jumped leaps and bounds since its debut season. It had to start somewhere, which it did in SF with contestants that would never make it on the show today (Candace Kumai was a culinary student and model at the time). This was still fun to watch in a very hero vs. villain kind of way where the good (Harold Dieterle) triumphed over the bad (Tiffany Faison) in the end. Fun to watch back now but don’t expect to see any glitz and glam that the show has become known for.
11. Top Chef: Boston (Season 12)
The emergence of women winning this show after a decade of only two doing so began this time around with badass Mei Lin scoring a big W in the end of what was a decent season. The themes for the Boston challenges were kinda dull and the way George Pagonis (who went home in the first Quickfire) was brought back very late in the season was just confusing. But watching Mei and runner up Gregory Gourdet‘s journey from beginning to end (especially when they competed against each other) was thrilling to experience.
10. Top Chef: Las Vegas (Season 6)
So many other ranking articles similar to this have put Vegas at the top or near it. It’s also the only season to win the Emmy for Outstanding Reality Competition Program so far. Here’s the thing: it wasn’t that good for one reason. Only four of the seventeen chefs (Jennifer Carroll, Kevin Gillespie, Bryan Voltaggio and winner Michael Voltaggio) won the elimination challenges. It should’ve just been them competing as no one else really came close to ever winning something which, in my opinion, made it super boring to watch. Also it was kind of obvious that Michael and Bryan were going to be the final two but I would’ve much preferred for it to be Jennifer or Kevin at the end as I found their personalities much more fun to watch.
9. Top Chef: New York (Season 5)
I’ll make this short and sweet. The best part of this season was the introduction of my all-time favorite contestant Carla Hall. She was a breath of fresh air as was many others including Fabio Viviani, Jamie Lauren and Ariane Duarte. The major problem with the NYC edition of Top Chef was eventual winner Hosea Rosenberg, who was best known for hooking up with fellow contestant Leah Cohen while both had their own relationships at home and him putting out mediocre food throughout the course of the show. Blah.
8. Top Chef: Charleston (Season 14)
Top Chef really turned me on to the city of Charleston as its history and stunning views really worked well with the challenges the contestants had to endure. This was a newbie vs. vets season where the vets had the clear advantage as it was all them in the end. Probably the most likable final three that the show has ever had in Brooke Williamson, Shirley Chung and Sheldon Simeon with Williamson winning it all (yay!)
7. Top Chef: Kentucky (Season 16)
Another fantastic example of Top Chef doing what they are known for: mixing fun personalities with great food in a beautiful area. The challenges, particularly the Kentucky Derby one, were fun to watch and I don’t think there has ever been such an amazing story arc in recent years than the one with winner Kelsey Barnard Clark, who was a delight to watch.
6. Top Chef: Colorado (Season 15)
There’s an emotional connection to this particular season due to the dearly departed Fatima Ali, who passed months after the show finished filming in January 2019. She was part of a great group of people within a super fun season that had them doing everything from competing in Olympic-style challenges to glamping near the mountains of Estes Park. The show also produced another satisfying winner in Joseph Flamm, who became one of many to grab the TC crown after battling back into the competition courtesy of the show’s sister series Last Chance Kitchen.
5. Top Chef: Seattle (Season 10)
Seattle redeemed itself from the s**tshow that was Texas. Bringing back past contestants again (did we really need another round of Josie Smith-Malave? I don’t think so) was pointless as the newbies stood out in droves, particularly winner Kristen Kish who once again was so much fun to watch as the season progressed. Seattle had a fair amount of drama but it balanced well with what the show is supposed to be about, food, as opposed to what season 2 is now known for.
4. Top Chef: Miami (Season 3)
Miami was the first season of Top Chef that helped become what it is today. They finally found the right blend of contestants to root for amid an area of the country that was vibrant to witness. Winner Hung Huynh was polarizing if not hella amusing and we were introduced to Top Chef legends this season including the super sexy Tre Wilcox and delightful Casey Thompson. A definite season to watch over and over again.
3. Top Chef: California (Season 13)
Yes, this was the bro-iest of Top Chef seasons, but it was still sooooooo fun to watch! This was the show’s best season in terms of highlighting all the area that they were in from Los Angeles all the way to San Francisco. I would’ve preferred another chef to win as opposed to Jeremy Ford like runner up Amar Santana or the deliciously fabulous Karen Akunowicz, but this was a pleasure to tune into week after week regardless of the outcome.
2. Top Chef: All Stars (Season 8)
I lost my s**t when they announced the cast for All Stars as it was pretty much spot on. The ONLY REASON why this isn’t number one is because it felt like it was designed for Richard Blais to win given his dramatic loss in his initial season. But, outside of Mike Isabella‘s annoying presence, this was a fantastic group of chefs to put together in the best city in world… NYC.
1. Top Chef: Chicago
SO MUCH FUN. Like the perfect cast with just the right amount of drama that really made Top Chef the television dynasty that it is today. Stephanie Izard is my favorite winner of all-time as she handily took down Blais in a season that included a dazzling amount of (fascinating) shouting matches, great food, and Spike Mendelsohn‘s scheming that you would see on shows like Survivor or Big Brother. Yum!