Ranking the Seasons of Top Chef
With a new season of Top Chef around the corner – an All-Star season at that – it seemed like the perfect time to do my personal rankings of Top Chef.
I am not a Day 1 Top Chef fan. Hell, I’m not even a first decade Top Chef fan. I fell in love this show just a few years ago. Some friends had started a Top Chef podcast. For a couple seasons, I just listened to the podcast. I didn’t even watch the show! I then started watching the show, and then went on a binge of the more recent seasons. This past year, thanks to Hayu, I did a complete rewatch of all of the seasons.
I am now completely obsessed with Top Chef.
Please note there are spoilers ahead!
1. Season 17 – All Stars 2
Well folks, we have a new number 1 season. All Stars 2 just finished, and I am ready to name it my favourite season of Top Chef. Is this recency bias? Possibly. I do think in a rewatch down the road, I will love it just as much as I did on the first viewing. We started with a stellar cast, and as we widdled it down, we were left with one of my favourite final 3’s in the show’s run. I was so excited to see Melissa take the crown. She absolutely dominated throughout the whole competition. Her story was sweet, powerful, and incredible. What a fantastic season this was.
2. Season 10 – Seattle
I love this season. That’s obvious by my number 1 ranking of it (blogger’s note: now number 2!) This is one of my favourite casts, with a number of stars including Brooke, Kristen, John Tesar, Sheldon, and Shirley. I also feel like this was a fun case of returnees (except Josie). It never felt like they were running away with it like in Charleston. CJ and Stefan added to the show. It was also the first instance of a Last Chance Kitchen winner coming back and winning the competition. It wasn’t disappointing because I feel like Kristen got sent home way too early and this was a nice redemption arc for her. As sad as I was for Brooke, it worked out for her in the end!
3. Season 4 – Chicago
Chicago was my favourite of the early seasons. It featured a really talented cast that have gone on to have amazing careers. There is a lot of star power here. Antonia, Richard, and Stephanie have all had really great careers on television. It’s also the only time in the first 9 seasons that a woman won Top Chef. Stephanie is incredibly talented and a deserving and satisfying winner. Man, I really want to go back and watch this one again.
Update: I have started watching it again.
4. Season 6 – Las Vegas
Top Chef Las Vegas was a really fiery season. This season brought us some long-running staples in Top Chef lore. It also had two brothers fighting each other for the win at the very end. It’s was a glizty and glam season that reflected the season’s backdrop.
5. Season 16 – Kentucky
This is ranked so high for me probably because of recency bias, but also because my pre-season pick ended up winning the season. I also loved this season because the cast loved and respected each other. It didn’t feel like there were many weak links. There was also some really fun challenges (looking at you, house boat).
6. Season 12 – Boston
Boston is one of my favourite seasons because a. I love Boston and b. it features one of the most rock solid final 3’s. I love Mei and she is a great winner, but I would have been equally happy with a Gregory win.
7. Season 8 – All-Stars
All-Star seasons can be tough, but I think the (first!!) Top Chef All-Star season is pretty darn good. The cast features a lot of people from the first few seasons that we wanted to see back again. It was fun to watch our favs battle it out all together.
8. Season 13 – California
For many, I’m sure Top Chef California could be a kind of forgettable season. It didn’t provide a particularly exciting winner. Why does it rank so high for me? Well, I love that they travelled throughout California, highlighting the whole state.
But really, it’s a top season for me because I am on it!
I got to attend one of the restaurants during the pop-up challenge (the winning one at that!) It was a super cool experience, especially since the judges were there when we were. So this alone brings this season up in my books.
9. Season 14 – Charleston
Top Chef Charleston was actually the first full season I watched. I liked the Fan vs Favourites element, but it left me kind of wishing for an all-newbie, or all-returnee season. With most reality shows, the newbies don’t really stand a chance. Being on the show before is such a leg up.
However, I loved the returnees for this season and was very excited to see Brooke take home a well-deserved W.
10. Season 15 – Colorado
Just another stellar cast!!!
This seems to be the start of the trend to have former contestants compete in Last Chance Kitchen to come back onto the show. Which feels like a very odd move to me? I just would like to enjoy the returnees on the show instead of watching them duke it out in LCK, which I feel should be reserved for those competing on the show.
This was another season where the returnee from LCK won the whole season.
11. Season 11 – New Orleans
I think the biggest bone I have to pick with this season is that Nina should have won!! And she did not!!! And therefore I was mad!!!!
I did love New Orleans as the background of the season. It’s such a cool and interesting place.
12. Season 5 – New York
Here’s another season with a disappointing winner. But its fantastic cast really brings it up. How can you not love Carla and Fabio? They came back along with Jamie for All-Stars where I loved them again. New York also has the only instance of a ‘Showmance’ on Top Chef
13. Season 1 – San Francisco
Like every show, the first season feels a little different than the rest of the series. An obvious difference is the host. Katie Lee (at the time Joel) hosted Top Chef in the first season. It didn’t really feel like she had a handle on it, and she felt a bit robotic. I love her now!
Another difference is that the cast wasn’t as high-caliber as they tend to be now. There was a culinary student, a home cook, and a sommelier (although I am v v v thankful we had time with Stephen, the most insane person ever cast on this show).
The first season is a nice jump-off point, but it doesn’t really feel like Top Chef as we know it now.
14. Season 3 – Miami
Top Chef Miami is the beginning of the shift in Top Chef to make it into the show we know today. The chefs are better, the challenges are bigger, CJ is taller. This season feels flashy in the same way that the city does.
15. Season 7 – Washington D.C.
It’s not that I didn’t like this season, it’s that I genuinely remember nothing about it. I’m reading the list of contestants and I can really only remember Amanda who was on Top Chef Charleston as well.
16. Season 2 – Los Angeles
Of course I’m happy Padma is finally here. But the second season of Top Chef has a bunch of the weird aspects of season 1, but not as charming. There are a couple weird, not fun moments during this season, especially relating to the treatment of Marcel. Also not a particularly fun winner!!
17. Season 9 – Texas
I recently went back and tried to rewatch this season and I couldn’t make it through. It all feels very yike yike yike. The winner felt very clear cut from the beginning, and it never felt like Paul wasn’t going to win. Since then, there’s been some things about his personal life that have cast an even darker cloud over this season. And then there was this awful bullying storyline throughout Top Chef Texas that just makes it a very uncomfortable watch.
We will be covering Top Chef All-Stars over on Rob Has a Podcast. Subscribe on iTunes, or listen here.