Top Chef All-Stars: Season Preview
By Kim Hollis, David Mumpower and Jason Lee
December 1, 2010
For seven seasons, Top Chef has been building to this moment, the competition wherein many of the finest chefs ever to serve a dish on the show are given the opportunity to become the best of the best. Okay, that’s not completely accurate since none of the winners will be participating during this All-Stars competition. What we can say for certain is that this group of 18 chefs represents the finest assortment of players yet to claim the title of Top Chef. And since Jason Lee’s law school semester doesn’t finish for a couple of weeks, we will be handling the recaps for early December while Jim Van Nest has kindly stepped in and offered to do Survivor for us during this time frame.
Before we recap the initial episode of the show, we feel we should state our feelings about each of the contestants just as we did prior to the recent Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains season. We also take this rare opportunity to gloat about the fact that we were saying “Look out for Sandra Diaz-Twine” when most people were going, “As a previous winner, she has no chance of winning.” The good news is that being an accomplished previous performer is a positive rather than a negative for Top Chef. This is the rare reality show competition that rewards greatness rather than celebrates mediocrity. As such, the division of Top Chef talent is easily segmented into the great, the good and the “personalities”.
You may recall that our dissatisfaction with season 7 was predicated upon its focus with “personalities” whereas we relished season 6 for its breathtaking cooking talent. This brings us to an important point. A lot of the way we evaluate the chefs is predicated upon how they performed relative to the rest of their cast in their various seasons. From our perspective, Tiffani Faison’s runner-up finish in Season 1 is much less impressive than Jennifer Carroll’s fourth place finish in Season 6. Top Chef was an unknown commodity in Season 1 and a lot of the performances offered dissatisfied the judges. Being runner-up among that group is the equivalent of being Kelly Wiglesworth on the first season of Survivor. No, Tiffani Faison hasn’t engaged in credit card fraud (to our knowledge), but there was never a time during that season where we thought she was a better chef than eventual winner Harold Dieterle. He was head and shoulders above anyone else that season and even if he were a competitor for All-Stars, we probably wouldn’t have him in our top five. Meanwhile, Season 6 of Top Chef is the high water mark of reality television to date in terms of an entirely new cast all excelling at their given tasks. Finishing in the top five that season as Mike and Jen both did is a much more impressive accomplishment. Keeping this in mind, our overall ranking of the seven Top Chef seasons to date in terms of cooking strength is:
1) Season 6
2) Season 4
3) Season 5
4) Season 2
5) Season 7
6) Season 3
7) Season 1
I think most of us would agree that season 6 is easily the best and the first season was largely a work in progress. Our explanation for the rest of the ordering is this. Season 4 had two of the best chefs in the history of the show with Richard Blais being our choice for best contestant who didn’t win his season. Season 5 had one of the weakest winners in terms of overall performance in the competition in Hosea, but Stefan, Carla and Fabio are an impressive trifecta of non-winners. Season 2 winner Ilan Hall and runner-up Marcel are one of the show’s weaker 1/2 punches. What impresses us about that year is that the final five included Cliff, who had to be disqualified after that unfortunate incident, Elia and Sam. That grouping plus Ilan represents four fine chefs. We are very disappointed that Cliff and Sam are not among the returning contestants this season.