TV cooking shows have been around since the 1940s when chef James Beard hosted the live series I Love to Eat on NBC. In recent years, as reality TV has taken the airwaves, cooking shows have become all about the competition, with series like Hell’s Kitchen, The Great British Bake Off, and Top Chef dominating the schedules.
Top Chef made its debut on Bravo in 2006 and has now run for 17 series and spawned spin-offs such as Top Chef Masters for award-winning chefs and Top Chef Junior for aspiring young cooks. For many, the original Top Chef is still the best version, but which are the best and which are the worst seasons?
10 Best: Season 5 – 7.4
According to the ratings on IMDb, the fifth series of Top Chef was one of the best seasons of the show. It was set in New York, which is a great place to locate any cooking show, as the city is home to five restaurants that have been awarded the much sought-after three Michelin stars.
While Hosea Rosenberg made for a forgettable winner, the lively supporting cast more than made up for it with characters like Fabio and Carla. We were even treated to a bit of drama with the first kitchen romance!
9 Worst: Season 2 – 5.9
From the top to the bottom and the series that the internet has deemed was the worst season to Top Chef. The second season was filmed in Los Angeles, before moving to Hawaii, and was the first season to feature Padma Lakshmi as co-host.
While she is an old hand at presenting the show, her style was a little faltering in her first season, plus the team had the competitors take part in some unusual challenges. Worst of all was the bizarre episode in which some of the chefs pinned down fellow contestant Marcel Vigneron and shaved his head.
8 Best: Season 6 – 7.4
Season six of Top Chef, filmed in Las Vegas, was also deemed to be one of the most popular series by fans.
There was lots to love about the sixth season of the show, not least the very intense sibling rivalry between brothers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, with Michael coming out on top and eventually winning the $100,000 prize. Set against the backdrop of Sin City, this was always going to be a glamorous and glitzy version of Top Chef and it was all the more entertaining because of it.
7 Worst: Season 11 – 6.2
New Orleans is famous for its Creole cuisine, so it is something of a surprise that the eleventh season of Top Chef, which was set in the Big Easy, was such a disappointment.
The best thing about this season was the city of New Orleans; it was when the show went back into the kitchen that things started to go wrong. Worst of all, as far as hardcore fans were concerned, the wrong chef won. Fan-favorite Nina Compton was denied the top prize by series villain Nicholas Elmi, who has nearly kicked off the show on several occasions because of his anger issues.
6 Best: Season 17 – 7.4
The most recent Top Chef season saw some of the favorite cheftestants from previous years return for an all-star competition, a concept which fans adored. There were plenty of former runners-up who were in the hunt for a win, but the top prize surprisingly went to popular chef Melissa King, who had only scored fourth place when she appeared previously on season four.
Everybody loves an underdog story, and that is just what the seventeenth season served up. Let’s see if Top Chef can top themselves when the eighteenth season from Portland is broadcast in 2021.
5 Worst: Season 10 – 6.4
Season 10 of Top Chef was set in Seattle, with a few weeks in Juneau, Alaska to spice things up a bit. Although the best chef won in the end, the super talented Kristen Kish, she only made it through thanks to the Last Chance Kitchen after she was thrown under the proverbial bus by “teammate” Josie, an unpopular contestant making an inexplicable second appearance in the series. All’s well that end’s well, but this drama proved to be too much for Top Chef fans to handle.
4 Best: Season 16 – 7.4
Set in Kentucky, the sixteenth season of Top Chef was a popular choice thanks to its creative challenges, and the fact that the producers had finally, after 12 years of trying, managed to gather together a group of genuinely nice people who were all supportive towards one another.
Regular judge Gail Simmons was pregnant during the filming of Top Chef: Kentucky, and, in one of the most ingenious challenges ever seen on the show, chefs had to create a meal based around her unusual pregnancy cravings.
3 Worst: Season 1 – 6.4
Season one of Top Chef tends to suffer in comparison to later seasons, as so much has changed since the first show was aired in 2006. Padma Lakshmi, who is now an integral part of Top Chef didn’t join the team until the second season, but there are other aspects of that first series that regular fans find odd.
Perhaps the biggest difference is the quality of the cooking; some of the early cheftestants would be more at home on the new Top Chef Amateurs which is set to launch next year.
2 Best: Season 15 – 7.4
The Colorado series of Top Chef provided us with some of the most iconic stars of the show, and the winner, Joseph Flamm, even had to fight his way onto the show through Last Chance Kitchen, providing us with yet another fabulous underdog story.
Fans of Top Chef also have a soft spot for season fifteen because of Fatima Ali, a talented young chef from Pakistan who was voted fan favorite but who sadly died in 2019, aged just 29-years-old, after being diagnosed with cancer.
1 Worst: Season 3 – 6.5
By the time season three rolled around, Top Chef was starting to become the show we all know and love today, and the glamorous Miami setting only added to its charms. So, why is it one of the most unpopular series?
That is most likely the fault of winner Hung Huynh, who was undoubtedly a talented chef, but who also happened to have something of a polarizing personality, and who was very much painted as the villain of the series. It seems Top Chef fans don’t like it when the bad guy wins.