15 Delicious Facts About Top Chef
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.
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.
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.
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.”