Not a member? Sign up now
Ranked: Top Chef Seasons from Worst to Best
Eight seasons, 109 cheftestants, one astonishingly conclusive list.
By Ben Reininga and Peter Malamud Smith
The finale of Top Chef's eighth season airs on Bravo this Wednesday. We're a couple of die-hards, so in celebration, we took it upon ourselves to rank the eight seasons. This was not a good thing to attempt before lunch.
8. Season Seven: Washington D.C.
By the seventh season, the Top Chef formula was getting stale. In an effort to spice things up, the producers devised some of the goofiest and most contrived challenges the show had ever seen. Chefs were forced to make baby food, cook while tied to one another, and trade dishes halfway through cooking them. And after the heavy hitters of Season Six, Season Seven saw a serious dearth of talent; it ended only months ago, and yet you can't remember the name of the guy who won, can you?
On the plus side, the producers finally wised up enough to replace the insufferable Toby Young, whose canned bon mots would have gotten him instantly booted from Top Wiseass (rimshot!), with Eric Ripert. Ripert may not be very quick with a quip, but he's a great chef, handsome, and a pleasantly French foil to Tom's bearlike charm.
Highlights: The hilarious weirdness of Angelo Sosa. That one time during the Hilton challenge when Padma Lakshmi mentioned six individual corporate sponsors in one gerundial phrase.
7. Season Two: Los Angeles
Top Chef's sophomore season introduced Padma Lakshmi, who took over for Katie Lee Joel as host. For all her quirks, Padma was a step up from the affectless Katie Lee. But it would be some seasons before we learned to truly appreciate Padma for who she is.
While Season Two's cheftestants were a talented bunch, they also came off as probably the biggest assholes in Top Chef history. Winner Ilan Hall was an uptight, passive-aggressive non-entity whose only redemption came when he managed to beat, and so momentarily silence, Marcel Vigneron, almost certainly the most unbearable person on television ever. Even the fan favorite, Sam Talbot, was mostly voted in for being "kinda handsome despite his thick greasy mane."
Highlights: Cliff Crooks acting out the collective wishes of the entire nation by holding Marcel down and trying to shave off his ludicrous boy-wonder coiffure. Michael Midgley's notorious Cheeto-in-chocolate amuse bouche.
6. Season Five - New York
The joy of new life — Gail Simmons' pregnancy — hatched an evil spore in the middle of Season Five when Toby Young joined the roster as a judge. Obnoxious bald guys were a recurring trope of Season Five; winner Hosea Rosenberg distinguished himself not through his food but by cheating on his girlfriend, on camera, with the equally milquetoast Leah Cohen. (Look, if you're going to cheat on your girlfriend, make sure you're not on a reality show. Especially not on Bravo.)
The season's charisma vacuum was mitigated somewhat by the comic geniality of Fabio Viviani. Meanwhile, one challenge was scrapped after a refrigerator malfunction — does it seem weird to anyone else that this show is supported by outrageous product placement from makers of kitchen equipment, yet said kitchen equipment is constantly breaking on air?
Highlights: Fabio's legendary slam "This is Top Chef, not Top Scallop," not to mention his boasts about his hosting skills ("We can serve monkey ass in empty clam shell and we would still win!"). Carla Hall's "Hootie! Hootie hoo!" which seemed absurd at first and ended up being awfully endearing.
5. Season One - San Francisco
The season that started it all was exciting at the time, but subsequent seasons have improved on the formula, with better production value and a relatively expressive host. (Apologies to Katie Lee Joel; sources suggest her emotion chip was faulty.) Among the cast, Tiffani Faison and her grating personality lasted for the entire season before finally being undone by Harold Dieterle, whose own personality was — how to say — non-existent. Runner-up Lee Anne Wong managed to distinguish herself enough that she designed challenges for the show for several seasons following.
Highlights: Dave Martin's snappy response to Tiffani's nagging ("I'm not your bitch, bitch"). Dave managing to cry in seemingly every episode.