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Top Chef is an American reality competition show that airs on the cable television network Bravo, in which chefs compete 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 same company that created Project Runway.

Three spinoffs extending the Top Chef brand are planned: Bravo has ordered Top Chef Junior, featuring contestants in their early teens; a second spinoff began airing in June 2009 and is called Top Chef: Masters, featuring "some of the brightest stars in the world of food, award-winning, widely-renowned chefs," according to Bravo's press release. A third spinoff, Top Chef: Just Desserts has been ordered.

Show format

Basic format

Each episode of Top Chef, save for the finale, has had two challenges.

In the Quickfire Challenge, each chef is asked to cook a dish with certain requirements (for example, using specific ingredients or to inspire a certain taste) or participate in a culinary-related challenge (for example, a mise en place relay or a taste test). They are usually given an hour or less to complete these tasks. 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 following Elimination Challenge. As the number of contestants dwindle no one receives immunity and instead the winner gets another "reward" (such as being team captain for a team challenge).

In the Elimination Challenge, the chefs have to prepare one or more dishes to meet the challenge requirements. Many of these are individual challenges and may require several courses, although some instances require teams to complete the challenge. Teams may be selected by the remaining contestants among themselves, but more often are selected by the random process of "drawing knives" from a butcher's block, with the team identification revealed on the blade of the knife. The chefs may have from a few hours to a few days to complete this challenge. Ingredients for Elimination Challenges are generally limited to what is present in the "Top Chef" pantry and what the chefs purchase at a food store, with a possibly limited budget. 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 of obtaining ingredients (such as asking people door-to-door). After shopping, the contestants will cook for four judges, usually including at least one guest judge. In most cases, the contestants cook for the four judges and a group of guests or customers (for example, the cowboys in Colorado). The judges and the guests sample the food and rate the individuals or teams.

After the Elimination Challenge ends, the chefs are taken to Judges' Table, where the four judges consider the guests' comments and deliberate on the best and worst dishes. The top individuals or teams are called in, and may be asked questions of their meals before they are notified of their placement. One individual is named the winner of the challenge and may be awarded an additional prize by the guest judge. Then, the bottom individuals or teams are brought to the judges, and similar discussion of their courses is played out. From this group, one chef or team is determined to be the worst, and then the host asks one chef to "pack [their] knives and go." This is usually followed by a knife packing sequence for the eliminated chef, and a clip of his or her exit video, to close out the episode. According to the credits, some elimination decisions (e.g., Cliff Crooks's disqualification in Season 2) are made in consultation with the show's producers.

The show continues in this format for 10-13 episodes, until the Finale.

Special formats

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, decor, and menu. According to Dale Levitski, a Season Three finalist, this is one of the contestants' most anticipated challenges. Season Four had not only "Restaurant Wars", but also "Wedding Wars".

In the final challenge, the two (or three) remaining chefs prepare a multiple course dinner with the help of other chefs. These other chefs could be previously eliminated chefs or celebrity chefs (for example, Rocco DiSpirito). The winning chef is selected based on several factors including food quality, their ability to lead their selected chefs, and general performance during the show. There is no Quickfire Challenge in this episode.

Guest judges

There have been 61 guest judges so far on all 5 seasons. Of these, 20 have won the Food and Wine Best New Chef award, including Head Judge Tom Colicchio. Of these 61 guests, 12 have appeared multiple times. Anthony Bourdain and Rocco DiSpirito* lead with 5 appearances, Hubert Keller* and Eric Ripert have 4 (Ripert appeared a fifth time on the Top Chef Holiday Special, see below), Michelle Bernstein and Wylie Dufresne* have 3, and the rest tie with two: Daniel Boulud*, Dan Barber*, Ming Tsai, Scott Conant*, Mike Yakura and Ted Allen (Allen later became a permanent judge in Seasons 3 and 4). Of these 12, 6 were winners of Food and Wine Best New Chef. Actress Natasha Richardson also appeared to judge.

(*--Denotes a Food and Wine Best New Chef Winner.)

Prizes and sponsors

Sears had been a series sponsor since Season One, along with Calphalon and Toyota. Top Chef began using GE appliances in Season Three. Other sponsors have included Kingsford Charcoal, Wild Oats, Bertolli, Cold Stone Creamery, Kraft Foods, Nestlé, Quaker Oats, Baileys Irish Cream, T.G.I. Friday's, Red Robin, Continental Airlines, Breville, and Bombay Sapphire.


Season 1

First aired March 8 – May 24, 2006
Top Chef (season 1) was filmed in San Francisco, Californiamarker. The host was Katie Lee Joel and the judges were Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons, along with several guest judges along the way. In the end, it came down to Harold & Tiffani and in the end Harold was crowned the first Top Chef. The finale was in Las Vegas, Nevadamarker, the location of the sixth season.

Season 2

First aired October 18, 2006 – January 31, 2007
Top Chef (season 2) was filmed in Los Angeles, Californiamarker. Padma Lakshmi took over for Katie Lee Joel. There were several guest judges throughout the season, as in the first season. Ilan ended up beating Marcel in the end, becoming the second male Top Chef in a row. The finale took place in Waikoloa Village, Hawaiimarker. The fan favorite turned out to be Sam Talbot, who took 3rd place that season.

Season 3

First aired June 13 – October 13, 2007
Top Chef (season 3) was filmed in Miami, Floridamarker. This was the first season to have taken place outside of Californiamarker. Padma Lakshmi remained host, while the judging panel remained the same. In the end, Hung beat out Dale and Casey in the show's first ever final three finale. The finale took place in Aspen, Coloradomarker. The fan favorite turned out to be Casey Thompson, who was also the 2nd Runner-Up of that season.

Season 4

First aired March 12 – June 11, 2008
Top Chef (season 4) was filmed in Chicago, Illinoismarker. The judges remained the same, along with some guest judges. In the end, Stephanie became the show's first ever female Top Chef, beating out Lisa and Richard. The finale took place in San Juan, Puerto Ricomarker. The fan favorite turned out to be Stephanie Izard, who was also the Winner of that season.

Season 5

First aired November 12, 2008 – March 4, 2009
Top Chef (season 5) was filmed in New York Citymarker. The judges remained the same except Toby Young filled in for Gail Simmons for half the season, and with some guest judges. In the end, Hosea became the Top Chef, beating out Stefan and Carla. The finale took place in New Orleansmarker. The fan favorite turned out to be Fabio Viviani, who took 4th place that season.

Season 6

First aired beginning August 19, 2009
Top Chef (season 6) was shot in Las Vegas, Nevadamarker. The judges remained the same, with some guest judges. The finale took place in Napa, Californiamarker.

Season 7

On October 5, 2009 it was announced by Bravo TV that a 7th season of Top Chef has been picked up. Shooting will begin January, 2010.

Special episodes

4 Star All Star (Season One vs. Season Two)

On June 6, 2007, as part of the buildup for Season 3, Bravo aired a special charity episode called "4 Star All Star," which awarded $20,000 to the charity of the winning team's choice. The show brought together Season 1 contestants Stephen, Harold, Dave, and Tiffani, and pitted them against Season 2 contestants Ilan, Elia, Marcel, and Sam. The show format was kept the same, with a Quickfire Challenge to start, followed by an Elimination Challenge. The show was filmed in Miami Beach at the kitchen and hotel used for Season 3. Padma Lakshmi hosted.

  • Quickfire Challenge: Create a two-egg breakfast dish in 10 minutes, using only one hand. Prize: An extra $100 for the overall winner's team to spend on groceries for the Elimination Challenge.
    • SEASON 1 TEAM WINNER: Stephen.
    • SEASON 2 TEAM WINNER: Marcel.
    • OVERALL WINNER: Season 1
  • Elimination Challenge: Prepare a four-course meal for the Season 3 contestants consisting of scallops, lobster, duck, and Kobe beef. Teams were given 30 minutes of shopping time, with Season 1 able to spend $300 and Season 2 able to spend $200. Teams were given two hours of cooking time. Courses were served head to head, with the team that wins the most courses winning the challenge.
    • SCALLOPS: Dave made cold smoked scallops & triple olive tapenade with lemon vinaigrette. Elia made a scallop duo with citrus marmalade and endive salad. Elia won.
    • LOBSTER: Stephen made lobster poached in beurre blanc with cauliflower crème anglaise. Marcel made a lobster duo with vanilla gelée and lobster foam. Stephen won.
    • DUCK: Harold made spicy duck meatballs with minted gnocchi. Ilan made almond stuffed duck breast with wild rice, white asparagus & raw egg yolk. Harold won.
    • KOBE BEEF: Tiffani made Kobe beef two ways served with creamy polenta. Sam made seared Kobe beef with mushroom confit & onion relish. Tiffani won.
    • OVERALL WINNER: Season 1, with three wins.
  • Judges: Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, and Ted Allen.
  • Stephen, as winner of the Season 1 team in the Quickfire, became team captain for the Elimination and got to choose his team's charity. He chose Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
  • Marcel, as winner of the Season 2 team in the Quickfire, became team captain for his team. He chose Share Our Strength for his charity.
  • Prior to the Quickfire Challenge, Season 1 contestant Lee Anne Wong was introduced as having been hired as a food consultant for Top Chef. This also explained Lee Anne's absence from the competition, as she was the fourth-place contestant in the first season of the show.

Top Chef Holiday Special

The December 24, 2007, special brought selected chefs from all three seasons back with a prize of $20,000 for the winner. Padma Lakshmi presided as host, with regulars Ted Allen, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons among the judges. The following Chefs participated: Tiffani Faison and Stephen (Season 1); Josie, Marcel Vigneron, and Betty (Season 2); CJ, Tre, and Sandee (Season 3). It was shot in Chicago, Illinois.

  • Quickfire Challenge: Chefs drew knives to determine the order in which they would choose gifts—ingredients—from under the tree. Upon their turn, the chef could either choose to 'steal' an already opened gift of another chef, or take a new gift from under the tree.
    • Winner: CJ (Roasted walnuts sauteéd with apples & shrimp)
    • Guest Judge: Eric Ripert
    • Prize: One free pass to the next round during the Elimination Challenge. (The pass could not be used to advance to the final round.)
  • Elimination Challenge: Create a three-course meal for a party of nine. After each course, two chefs will be eliminated.
    • Course 1: Stephen and Sandee eliminated.
    • Course 2: Josie and Betty eliminated.
    • Course 3: Marcel and CJ eliminated.
  • Surprise Challenge: After the three courses, Tiffani and Tre were given a surprise challenge to create an additional dish, utilizing anything left in the kitchen, in 30 minutes.
    • WINNER: Tiffani
    • Winning Menu:
      • First Course: Bacon-Wrapped Apples with Brussels Sprout Salad & Apple Chicken Jus
      • Second Course: Roasted Duck Breast on Spaetzle with Wine & Orange Jus
      • Third Course: Salted Butterscotch Pudding with Whipped Cream
      • Surprise Course: Braised Veal on Puff Pastry with Truffle Butter.
  • Guest Judges: Eric Ripert, Elizabeth Falkner, Norman van Aken, Alan Wong, Alfred Portale

Top Chef Reunion Dinner

On November 4, 2009, Fabio Viviani from season five has invited contestants from his season and those in the past for what is supposed to be a convivial gathering of chefs cooking, eating and talking. Chefs who attended were: Harold and Tiffani from season one; Ilan and Marcel from season two; Casey, Dale and Hung from season three; Richard and Lisa from season four and Carla, Fabio and Stefan from season five.


Top Chef Junior

Top Chef Junior is an upcoming American reality competition show that will air on the cable television network Bravo. In it, it is expected that chefs aged 13- to 16-years-old will compete against each other in weekly challenges. Following the Top Chef format, they will be judged by a panel of professional chefs and other notables from the culinary world, with Bravo stating that one or more contestants will be eliminated each week. The show is produced by Magical Elves Productions, the same company that created Top Chef. The show hopes to find itself "reaching a growing market and... [develop] a series that will teach and test the skills of younger aspiring chefs and appeal to the whole family."

While not confirmed by Bravo, the California Restaurant Association states that the show will feature chefs aged 15 to 18 (note that this differs from other documented information), that filming will take place "for three or to four weeks" in fall 2009, that "at the end of filming each day, participants will go home or back to the hotel" (contrasting with the original version of Top Chef, which features a communal home), and that no one will be eliminated: "all participants will stay and compete for the duration of filming," with a currently-undetermined process of choosing a winner and other prizes. The CRA's citation of the age requirements has been echoed elsewhere in the months following the June announcement of the show

Though Bravo has ordered 8 episodes, currently no air date has been set, and indeed, according to the Bravo press release, Top Chef Junior is a tentative title.

Top Chef Masters

Top Chef Masters is an American reality competition show that airs on the cable television network Bravo. In the series, 24 world-renowned chefs compete against each other in weekly challenges—a contrast from Top Chef, which features chefs that have been called relative "culinary amateurs".

Food journalist Kelly Choi hosts the show, and restaurant critic Gael Greene, culinary expert and Saveur Editor-in-Chief James Oseland and food critic Jay Rayner serve as judges.

The first season began airing on June 10, 2009 with contestants including Rick Bayless, John Besh, Michael Chiarello, Wylie Dufresne, and Hubert Keller.

On October 22, 2009, it was announced that a second season of Top Chef Masters has been ordered by Bravo.

Top Chef: Just Desserts

On October 26, 2009 Bravo TV announced that they've picked up a season of Top Chef: Just Desserts. Casting info is to follow soon. An airdate has not been set yet. The Bravo weblog website states:

"The series will pit pastry chefs against each other in a series of challenges.
As any good Top Chef fan knows, desserts have been, well, a sore spot for our chefs in the past, so it'll be interesting to see chefs whose specialty is pastry."

Top Chef: The Game

Top Chef: The Game is a computer game released by Brighter Minds for the PC. 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."

Top Chef: TV Dinners

In efforts to make certain dishes available to viewers who watch Top Chef but don't have time to try preparing those dishes themselves, Schwan's Home Service started offering Top Chef--branded frozen meals in late 2009.

Top Chef: The Magazine

In June 2009, news broke that Top Chef is working with Food & Wine magazine on a Top Chef print magazine.

DVD release

On October 20, 2009, A&E Home Video will release Top Chef - The Complete Season 5: New York on DVD in Region 1. [253914]

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 Editing in a Reality Series at the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards.

Time magazine's James Poniewozik named it one of the Top 10 Returning Series of 2007, ranking it at #10.


Top Chef Premieres Ratings
Season premiere # of Viewers Release Date +/- from previous
Season 6 premiere 2.6 Million August 19, 2009 - 4%
Season 5 premiere 2.7 Million November 12, 2008 + 27%
Season 4 premiere 2.26 Million March 12, 2008 + 11%
Season 3 premiere 2.02 Million June 13, 2007 + 8%


  1. Bravo orders new 'Top Chef Junior' spinoff for young teenage chefs
  2. Bravo announces plans for new Top Chef: Masters spinoff
  3. Bravo Retrievd on October 26
  4. Sponsors Announced For Upcoming Season Of TOP CHEF - Includes Sears, Toyota, And Glad
  5. TV by the Numbers. Retrieved on October 11, 2009.
  6. PDF file, retrieved from the BravoTV website on October 11, 2009.
  7. Bravo orders new Top Chef Junior spinoff
  8. Bravo Announces Development of "Top Chef Junior"
  9. Top Chef Junior series looking for prostart students
  10. Top Chef for Teens
  11. Bravo order chef shows
  12. Bravo Announces Plans for New Top Chef Masters Spinoff
  13. Bravo: Top Chef Masters News!
  14. Bravo Announces Top Chef Masters Host and Judges
  15. Bravo Dishes Premier of Top Chef Masters
  17. Bravo retrieved on October 26
  18. Primetime Emmy Award Nominations, 2007
  19. Poniewozik, James; Top 10 New TV Series;
  20. ((cite web| url =| title = Bravo’s Top Chef: Las Vegas premiere draws 2.6 million| author = Robert Seidman| date = August 20, 2009))

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