An Emmy-award-winning competition show, Top Chef, sets culinary challenges for the talented chefs who partake. The winner gets the title, a cash prize, and acclaim. One of my favorite aspects of the show is how they host the competition in a new place each season! Each season the chefs show off their culinary skills while exploring the area where the show is hosted. They learn about famous foods in the region and how the locals cook. Expect to see many renowned chefs guest starring, especially if Top Chef is visiting their hometown. If you want to watch the show but don’t think you’ll have time to catch up on nearly twenty seasons, check out our recommendations of the best Top Chef seasons. These are the most entertaining and career-launching out of the bunch. You might recognize some culinary stars you didn’t know got their start on the show!
Season 11: “New Orleans”
Maybe it’s guest judge Emeril Lagasse, or perhaps it’s watching the city of New Orleans rise back up after Hurricane Katrina, but the “New Orleans” season of Top Chef feels wholesome. From Vietnamese immigrants teaching the chefs how to cook shrimp to meeting the culinary legend Leah Chase, there’s lots of emotion in this season that makes for great television. The contestants take on New Orleans classics like gumbo, etouffee, and a Boucherie, a Cajun traditional cooking of a whole pig for the entire community. The “New Orleans” season was the first appearance of Top Chef favorites Shirley Chung and Nina Compton. This pair was so well-liked that they’ve both made guest appearances on other seasons!
Season 3: “Miami”
As a fan, I can admit that Top Chef didn’t find its footing until the third season. The first two seasons featured talented chefs and exciting challenges, but they tended to lean more toward the drama and “reality” television aspect of the show. The third season is a great place to start in the vibrantly colorful Miami. Since this season is in Florida, expect to see many citrus and seafood dishes. The chefs will travel from nightlife hotspots to yacht parties. The “Miami” season embraces the locale with fun challenges. Anthony Bourdain guest judges for two of the episodes, so you won’t want to miss this season.
Season 13: “California”
This season of Top Chef doesn’t focus on one city. The show features the whole state of California. The contestants travel to culinary hotspots in the state, like Santa Barbara, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. The state produces lots of fresh ingredients in the form of fruit, vegetables, and nuts, so it’s a great spot to host the competition. One of my favorite moments of the season is when MC Hammer judges the Quickfire competition with host Padma Lakshmi. The chefs get to make up a rapper name, and some even try their hand at showing their musical talents! This is one of many great moments in the “California” season.
Season 12: “Boston”
Top Chef’s twelfth season made our list of best Top Chef seasons for the fierce competition, making it a must-watch. The cast of the “Boston” season is exceptionally talented, with several frontrunners competing for the top spot. This season is also packed full of interesting history about early America. “The First Thanksgiving” episode is one you won’t want to miss. The judges challenge the chefs to create a delicious Thanksgiving meal. The catch is the contestant can only use the tools and foods that would have been available to the first settlers. The chefs serve their dishes to descendants of the first colonists and the region’s indigenous people.
Season 9: “Texas”
“Texas” is another season that takes the chefs around the state instead of focusing on one city. Another show was developed to air digitally alongside the main show. Last Chance Kitchen brings the eliminated chefs and pits them against each other to earn a place back on the main show. This addition added another layer to this already exciting competition. Nyesha Arrington, who you may recognize from Next Level Chef, got her start on Top Chef. Throughout the season, she competes alongside other talented chefs in challenges cooking barbeque, chilis, and other Texas classics that define local cuisine. My favorite challenge of the season was when the chefs had to bike around San Antonio to collect and cook ingredients and serve them at The Alamo!
Season 10: “Seattle”
Top Chef’s tenth season is one of the most dramatic. The show once again provided the chance for eliminated chefs to return via Last Chance Kitchen. Without giving any spoilers, this season showcases an outstanding comeback story that makes for some must-see television. The fierce competition of the season gave rise to two huge stars in the culinary scene today. Kristen Kisch and Brooke Williamson have both continued to host their own shows and make guest appearances for others. You’ll want to watch this powerful pair cook their way through Seattle’s culinary landscape. The rest of the cast is just as talented and fun to watch!
With standout contestants from seasons one through seven, the first All-Stars season is one of the best! All-Stars welcomes back chefs close to the title but didn’t win. Most of the season was shot in New York City, where the chefs competed in several challenges, from fishing on the coast to timed preparations of multiple ingredients. One of the best moments this season was when the contestants traveled to Ellis Island to learn about their ancestry. Each chef finds something special about their past, and two chefs find out they’re distantly related. The new information inspires dishes for the challenge and results in incredible food!
Season 5: “New York”
The “New York” season serves as the debut of Carla Hall, who became a significant personality on food-focused television, hosting shows like The Chew and guest starring Antiques Roadshow. Carla’s vivacious personality is just one of the reasons this season is so great. There are lots of recognizable guest stars, too, including Martha Stewart. This season is filled with other characters like Stefan Richter and Fabio Viviani, two European competitors who become fast friends and have lots of funny moments throughout the season. The finale brings the contests to New Orleans for a three-way showdown between the top three contestants you won’t want to miss.
Season 6: “Las Vegas”
Las Vegas, a city known for gambling, hosts Top Chef’s sixth season. The show ups the stakes for contestants during their time in Las Vegas, raising the prize amount for the winner. In addition to a high cash prize for the winner, “Las Vegas” introduced prizes for specific challenges along the way. The Quickfire Challenges pack a lot more punch when $15,000 is on the line.One of the most exciting parts of this season is that it pits brother against brother. Michael Voltaggio and Bryan Voltaggio compete for the top title during this Top Chef season. Without spoiling the conclusion, this sibling rivalry will leave you on the edge of your seat until the very last episode!
Season 4: “Chicago”
Top Chef’s “Chicago” season launched the careers of many chefs competing. Richard Blais and Antonia Lofaso are two of the most prominent chefs in food television today. Watch them get their start as they work through the Chicago season with the other talented contestant on this season. Chicago is a great food town, with a diverse set of options available in America’s second city. The show brings the contestants to some of the city’s most famous spots. The chefs make stops at improv shows and Solider Field, home of the Chicago Bears. The exciting season concludes with the finale in Puerto Rico.