CLOSE
Bravo TV
Bravo TV

15 Delicious Facts About Top Chef

Bravo TV
Bravo TV

Today, reality TV-loving foodies are all too familiar with phrases like “Hands up, utensils down.” But it wasn’t until 10 years ago—on March 8, 2006—that Bravo’s Top Chef first made its debut. In honor of a decade of Quickfires and Elimination Challenges, we’ve cooked up 15 facts about the Emmy Award-winning series.

1. PADMA LAKSHMI DIDN’T JOIN UP UNTIL SEASON TWO.

Though it’s impossible to talk about Top Chef and not mention its longtime host, Padma Lakshmi, she has not always been a part of the series' winning formula. In season one, Top Chef was hosted by Katie Lee Joel, a food critic, cookbook author, and then-wife (now ex-wife) of Billy Joel. Though Bravo’s Andy Cohen praised Joel in his official announcement of her departure from the series, calling her “a dynamic, beautiful woman who is passionate about food with a real zest for life,” fans of the show weren’t as kind. In 2010, Joel reappeared on the show—for one night only—as a guest judge.

2. LAKSMHI HAD A CULINARY BACKGROUND. SHE ALSO APPEARED IN GLITTER.

While Food Network viewers were familiar with Lakshmi from her 2001 series, Padma’s Passport, she also logged some time as an actress, most notably playing Sylk in Vondie Curtis-Hall’s guilty pleasure Glitter (2001).

3. DESSERT CAN BE A CHEFTESTANT’S BEST FRIEND (OR WORST ENEMY).

The word “dessert” is often a feared one on Top Chef, with many contestants believing that a bad dessert is the easiest way to get sent home. They’re right: According to Top Chef Stats, 11 chefs have been eliminated after making a dessert (the most of any dish). However, 33 challenges have been won because of dessert—more than any other dish. Soup is the next best/worst bet: 25 challenges have been won with a soup, while eight chefs have been eliminated because of it.

4. THE HOSTS HAVE TO EAT EVERYTHING.

When asked about the worst thing he ever had to eat as a guest judge on Top Chef, Eric Ripert told the crowd at The New York Times’ Arts & Leisure Weekend in 2010 that it was Ilan Hall’s chocolate ganache with chicken liver during the show’s second season. Added Lakshmi: “It had a rubbery, spring action, and we had to eat it. That’s the thing about our jobs.”

5. ILAN HALL’S FIRST RESTAURANT CLOSED WITHIN ONE WEEK OF OPENING.

Charley Gallay/Getty Images

Speaking of Ilan Hall: Even with a terrible dessert, he won season two and went on to open his own restaurant, The Gorbals, in Los Angeles in 2009. Within a week of the restaurant’s opening, it was closed down by the health department due to a faulty water heater. The restaurant reopened a couple of months later and remained open until 2014, when Hall announced that he would be moving to a new location and updating the menu to become “mostly vegan.” The restaurant has yet to reopen.

6. SEASON ONE WINNER HAROLD DIETERLE RECENTLY LEFT THE RESTAURANT BUSINESS.

In November, Top Chef’s first-ever winner, Harold Dieterle, announced that he would be closing the final two of the three restaurants he opened in New York—and that he’d be dropping out of the restaurant business altogether, at least for a while.

"I'm really proud of what we've done," Dieterle told Eater. "It's all kind of run its course. It's gotten to the point where I'm not having fun and enjoying myself. I'm not saying I never want to return to the restaurant business, but right now, I'm feeling a little beat up and a little tired … I'd like to maybe do some consulting work and perhaps eventually get into a fast casual concept. But I don't really know. I'm kind of figuring it all out.”

7. NO, YOU’RE NOT IMAGINING ALL THAT PRODUCT PLACEMENT.

As Top Chef’s popularity grew, so too did the number of companies looking to provide the show with product—from ovens to freezer bags. Back in 2008, Top Chef was the third most product placement-packed show on television, featuring 9316 product plugs over six months. Only American Chopper and Project Runway (which is produced by the same company) had more.

8. TOM COLICCHIO LIKES IT WHEN CHEFS TALK BACK.

Not every Top Cheftestant has been able to keep quiet when his or her dish is being criticized by the judges, and Tom Colicchio welcomes the back-and-forth. “As far as talking back, I really don't care at all if they talk back,” Colicchio told The Huffington Post. “I mean, it's actually fun, and I'd rather they fight for themselves. I'd rather them say, ‘You know what? You're wrong.’”

9. THE FEW MINUTES OF JUDGES’ TABLES YOU SEE ON TV CAN LAST HOURS IN REAL LIFE.

Though it looks like the judges are able to make their decisions about which chefs will stay and who will go rather quickly at the end of each episode, in real life, those sessions have been known to last eight hours. “If we can’t make a decision, the producers will sit us there,” explained Lakshmi. “It’s like detention.”

10. THERE’S A REASON LAKSHMI SOUNDS LIKE A ROBOT.

Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Because much of the dialogue Lakshmi delivers as host needs to be vetted by the production’s legal department, her lines are delivered to her via an earpiece—which helps to explain her sometimes-monotone delivery. In the same conversation, Lakshmi described her job duties as follows: “I sit on my a**. I eat and I talk. I don’t have to cook a damn thing. How awesome is that?”

11. THE SERIES HAS GONE INTERNATIONAL.

Top Chef’s popularity in the U.S. has translated to countries all over the world. Today, there are more than a dozen versions of Top Chef around the globe; the newest addition to the lineup, Top Chef Mexico, debuted in February.

12. TOP CHEF JUNIOR WAS ANNOUNCED, BUT NEVER HAPPENED.

In 2008, Bravo announced that it was launching a new teen-themed spin-off, Top Chef Junior, which they said would be “an eight episode series where teens (likely ages 13 to 16) will compete to see if they have what it takes to become a junior Top Chef.” Eight years later, the show has yet to materialize.

13. THE SERIES SPAWNED AN ONLINE COOKING SCHOOL.

If the weekly series itself proves too fast-paced to actually teach you any culinary tricks of the trade, wannabe chefs can sign up for Top Chef University. The online cooking school costs $195.95 for one year of access to the website’s 60-plus hours of instructional videos, one-on-one training with Top Cheftestants, and interactive tutorials.

14. IT ALSO BEGAT A VIDEO GAME.

In 2008, a computer game—Top Chef: The Game—was released, where players acted as contestants who needed to throw together virtual dishes in order to make it to the series finale. Reviews were mixed, with IGN calling it “an interesting diversion at best, but if you want to learn to cook, you'd be far better off just buying a cookbook.”

15. COLICCHIO SAYS PAUL QUI IS THE MOST TALENTED CHEF THEY’VE EVER HAD.

Rick Kern/Getty Images for Samsung

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Colicchio deemed season nine (Texas) his least favorite, largely because of the heat. But he also said that that season’s winner, Paul Qui, “is the most talented chef that we've ever had on the show. In fact, we had to dumb down how good he was, because it would've been pretty obvious that he was running away with everything.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?
iStock
iStock

Why do people have such a hard time staying awake after Thanksgiving dinner? Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. And what is tryptophan, anyway?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts, and a slew of other foods. Some of these foods, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats: That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol: What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating: Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
arrow
Food
The Origins of 5 International Food Staples

Food is more than fuel. Cuisine and culture are so thoroughly intertwined that many people automatically equate tomatoes with Italy and potatoes with Ireland. Yet a thousand years ago those dietary staples were unheard of in Europe. How did they get to be so ubiquitous there—and beyond?

1. TOMATOES

For years, the wonderful fruit that’s now synonymous with Italy was mostly ignored there. Native to South America and likely cultivated in Central America, tomatoes were introduced to Italy by Spanish explorers during the 1500s. Shortly thereafter, widespread misconceptions about the newcomers took root. In part due to their watery complexion, it was inaccurately thought that eating tomatoes could cause severe digestive problems. Before the 18th century, the plants were mainly cultivated for ornamental purposes. Tomato-based sauce recipes wouldn’t start appearing in present-day Italy until 1692 (although even those recipes were more like a salsa or relish than a sauce). Over the next 150 years, tomato products slowly spread throughout the peninsula, thanks in no small part to the agreeable Mediterranean climate. By 1773, some cooks had taken to stuffing tomatoes with rice or veal. In Naples, the fruits were sometimes chopped up and placed onto flatbread—the beginnings of modern pizza. But what turned the humble tomato into a national icon was the canning industry. Within Italy’s borders, this business took off in a big way during the mid-to-late 19th century. Because tomatoes do well stored inside metal containers, canning companies dramatically drove up the demand. The popularity of canned tomatoes was later solidified by immigrants who came to the United States from Italy during the early 20th century: Longing for Mediterranean ingredients, transplanted families created a huge market for Italian-grown tomatoes in the US.

2. CURRY

Bowl of chicken curry with a spoon in it

An international favorite, curry is beloved in both India and the British Isles, not to mention the United States. And it turns out humans may have been enjoying the stuff for a very, very long time. The word “curry” was coined by European colonists and is something of an umbrella term. In Tamil, a language primarily found in India and Sri Lanka, “kari” means “sauce.” When Europeans started traveling to India, the term was eventually modified into “curry,” which came to designate any number of spicy foods with South or Southeast Asian origins. Nonetheless, a great number of curry dishes share two popular components: turmeric and ginger. In 2012, traces of both were discovered inside residue caked onto pots and human teeth at a 4500-year-old archaeological site in northern India. And where there’s curry, there’s usually garlic: A carbonized clove of this plant was also spotted nearby. “We don’t know they were putting all of them together in a dish, but we know that they were eating them at least individually,” Steve Weber, one of the archaeologists who helped make this astonishing find, told The Columbian. He and his colleagues have tentatively described their discovery as "proto-curry."

3. THE BAGUETTE

Several baguettes

A quintessential Gallic food, baguettes are adored throughout France, where residents gobble up an estimated 10 billion every year. The name of the iconic bread ultimately comes from the Latin word for stick, baculum, and references its long, slender form. How the baguette got that signature shape is a mystery. One popular yarn credits Napoleon Bonaparte: Supposedly, the military leader asked French bakers to devise a new type of skinny bread loaf that could be comfortably tucked into his soldiers’ pockets. Another origin story involves the Paris metro, built in the 19th century by a team of around 3500 workers who were apparently sometimes prone to violence during meal times. It’s been theorized that the metro foremen tried to de-escalate the situation by introducing bread that could be broken into pieces by hand—thereby eliminating the need for laborers to carry knives. Alas, neither story is supported by much in the way of historical evidence. Still, it’s clear that lengthy bread is nothing new in France: Six-foot loaves were a common sight in the mid-1800s. The baguette as we know it today, however, didn’t spring into existence until the early 20th century. The modern loaf is noted for its crispy golden crust and white, puffy center—both traits made possible by the advent of steam-based ovens, which first arrived on France’s culinary scene in the 1920s.

4. POTATOES

Bowl of red, white, and black potatoes on wooden table

Historical records show that potatoes reached Ireland by the year 1600. Nobody knows who first introduced them; the list of potential candidates includes everyone from Sir Walter Raleigh to the Spanish Armada. Regardless, Ireland turned out to be a perfect habitat for the tubers, which hail from the misty slopes of the Andes Mountains in South America. Half a world away, Ireland’s rich soils and rainy climate provided similar conditions—and potatoes thrived there. They also became indispensable. For millennia, the Irish diet had mainly consisted of dairy products, pig meats, and grains, none of which were easy for poor farmers to raise. Potatoes, on the other hand, were inexpensive, easy to grow, required fairly little space, and yielded an abundance of filling carbs. Soon enough, the average Irish peasant was subsisting almost entirely on potatoes, and the magical plant is credited with almost single-handedly triggering an Irish population boom. In 1590, only around 1 million people lived on the island; by 1840, that number had skyrocketed to 8.2 million. Unfortunately, this near-total reliance on potatoes would have dire consequences for the Irish people. In 1845, a disease caused by fungus-like organisms killed off somewhere between one-third and one-half of the country’s potatoes. Roughly a million people died as a result, and almost twice as many left Ireland in a desperate mass exodus. Yet potatoes remained a cornerstone of the Irish diet after the famine ended; in 1899, one magazine reported that citizens were eating an average of four pounds’ worth of them every day. Expatriates also brought their love of potatoes with them to other countries, including the U.S. But by then, the Yanks had already developed a taste for the crop: The oldest record of a permanent potato patch on American soil dates back to 1719. That year, a group of farmers—most likely Scots-Irish immigrants—planted one in the vicinity of modern-day Derry, New Hampshire. From these humble origins, the potato steadily rose in popularity, and by 1796, American cookbooks were praising its “universal use, profit, and easy acquirement.”

5. CORN

Corn growing in a field

In the 1930s, geneticist George W. Beadle exposed a vital clue about how corn—also known as maize—came into existence. A future Nobel Prize winner, Beadle demonstrated that the chromosomes found in everyday corn bear a striking resemblance to those of a Mexican grass called teosinte. At first glance, teosinte may not look very corn-like. Although it does have kernels, these are few in number and encased in tough shells that can easily chip a human tooth. Nonetheless, years of work allowed Beadle to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that corn was descended from teosinte. Today, genetic and archaeological data suggests that humans began the slow process of converting this grass into corn around 8700 years ago in southwestern Mexico. If you're wondering why early farmers showed any interest in cultivating teosinte to begin with, while the plant is fairly unappetizing in its natural state, it does have a few key attributes. One of these is the ability to produce popcorn: If held over an open fire, the kernels will “pop” just as our favorite movie theater treat does today. It might have been this very quality that inspired ancient horticulturalists to tinker around with teosinte—and eventually turn it into corn

BONUS: TEA

Person sitting cross-legged holding a cup of green tea

The United Kingdom’s ongoing love affair with this hot drink began somewhat recently. Tea—which is probably of Chinese origin—didn’t appear in Britain until the 1600s. Initially, the beverage was seen as an exotic curiosity with possible health benefits. Shipping costs and tariffs put a hefty price tag on tea, rendering it quite inaccessible to the lower classes. Even within England’s most affluent circles, tea didn’t really catch on until King Charles II married Princess Catherine of Braganza. By the time they tied the knot in 1662, tea-drinking was an established pastime among the elite in her native Portugal. Once Catherine was crowned Queen, tea became all the rage in her husband’s royal court. From there, its popularity slowly grew over several centuries and eventually transcended socioeconomic class. At present, the average Brit drinks an estimated three and a half cups of tea every day.

All photos courtesy of iStock.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios