The ShowTop Chef is a reality TV series on the Bravo network. In each episode, a group of chef-contestants tackle two food-related challenges. The winner of the first challenge, called a "quickfire", gains some kind of useful advantage in the episode's second challenge, "elimination". The loser of the elimination challenge is sent home. Remaining chefs compete on the following episode, until, at the end of the season, the "Top Chef" is named. The winner receives cash and prizes. Also, at the end of each season, audience members vote for their favorite chef, this "Fan Favorite" also receives a cash prize.
The chefs are evaluated by a panel of judges. Three to four judges are regulars, and each episode includes a different guest judge. Many guest judges hail from the show's host city, which changes each season. To date, Top Chef has been filmed in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago and New York City. Each season's finale is filmed in yet another location, so far, finales have been staged in Las Vegas, Hawaii, Aspen, San Juan and New Orleans.
Your 'Top Chef' ItineraryAlthough Top Chef isn't explicitly about travel, it's packed with ideas for foodie trips. The show will especially inspire you to visit restaurants -- those that are run by the guest judges, and those that contestants worked at before or after their stint on the show.
- On the very first episode of the series, contestants worked in the kitchen of famed chef Hubert Keller, at Fleur de Lys, one of the top French restaurants in San Francisco. (777 Sutter St., (415) 673-7779.)
- Later that first season, contestants were challenged to prepare a meal with black truffles, judged by a panel of Napa Valley chefs, including Phillipe Jeanty, owner of Bistro Jeanty, in Yountville -- a great choice in wine country. (6510 Washington St., (707) 944-0103.)
- During season two in Los Angeles, contestants prepared breakfast on the beach over an open fire pit. The guest judge was up-and-coming chef Rafael Lunetta, who runs JiRaffe. (502 Santa Monica Boulevard, (310) 917-6671.)
- Another celebrated L.A. restaurateur, Suzanne Goin, judged a season two challenge in which contestants made healthy meals for diabetic and overweight children. Goin owns three restaurants in the area, including the much buzzed-about West Hollywood restaurant Lucques. (8474 Melrose Ave., (323) 655-6277.)
- Fabio Viviani, who was voted "fan favorite" in season five, is co-owner of Moorpark's Cafe Firenze Italian Restaurant and Martini Bar. (563 West Los Angeles Ave., (805) 532-0048.)
- The finale of season three was held in Aspen. Much of it was filmed at the Aspen Mountain Club, which is private meeting space. But since the club is part of the Little Nell hotel, you can catch the vibe at hotel's fantastic restaurant, Montagna. (675 E Durant Ave., (970) 920-4600.)
- Hosea Rosenberg, winner of season five, was the executive chef at JAX Fish House in Boulder prior to his stint on the show. No word yet on his future cooking plans. (928 Pearl St., (303) 444-1811.)
FloridaThe third season of the show was based in Miami, where local chef Norman Van Aken guest-judged an upscale barbeque challenge. His Orlando restaurant Norman's is the place to sample a fusion of Latin, Caribbean, Asian, African and American flavors. (4012 Central Florida Parkway, (407) 393-4333.)
HawaiiThe season two finale was in Hawaii, where Alan Wong, one of the state's most-decorated chefs, guest-judged a luau challenge. Visit Alan Wong's eponymous restaurant in Honolulu. (1857 South King Street., (808) 949-2526.)
- The fourth season of the show was filmed in Chicago, and hometown contestant Stephanie Izard was both the season winner and fan favorite. Her restaurant is called Girl and the Goat. see where she got her start as sous chef at La Tache, a French bistro, which has since closed.
- Rick Bayless, Mexican food pioneer, judged the street party challenge during season four. Visit his famed Frontera Grill. (449 North Clark St., (312) 661-0381.)
- Art Smith, known for his southern cuisine, judged the season four challenge where contestants had to make a meal for under $10. Check out Smith's restaurant, Table 52 -- although you probably won't find much for under $10 on the menu. (52 West Elm St., (312) 573-4000.)
LouisianaThe season five finale was held in New Orleans, and the first elimination challenge was held at nearby Houmas House, a restored antebellum plantation in Darrow, La. Houmas House also happens to have a fine restaurant, Lantil's Landing. (40136 Highway 942, (225) 473-9380.)
- The season one finale was held at the MGM Grand Casino, which is home to a number of noted restaurants, including head judge Tom Colicchio's Craft Steak, Michael Mina's Nobhill Tavern and the restaurants of Joël Robuchon. (3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South, (702) 891-1111.)
- Hung Huynh, winner of season three, was sous chef at Guy Savoy before his stint on the show. (3570 Las Vegas Boulevard South, (877) 346-4642.) Huynh reportedly has plans to open a Manhattan restaurant soon.
- Harold Dieterle, the winner of the first season, is the only Top Chef winner to open his own restaurant so far. He runs Perilla. (9 Jones St., (212) 929-6868.)
- Ilan Hall, winner of season two, worked as a line chef at the tiny-but-terrific tapas joint Casa Mono, before his Top Chef turn. (125 East 17th St., (212) 253-2773.) Hall now lives in Los Angeles, no word on his recent cooking activities.
- Sam Talbot, who was fan favorite in season two, is the executive chef at The Surf Lodge in Montauk, New York. (183 Edgemere Street, (631) 668-2632.)
- In season five, viewers got to peek into the kitchen of head judge Tom Colicchio's signature restaurant Craft, the scene of an elimination challenge. (43 East 19th St., (212) 780-0880.)
- Later that season, contestants sweated out a challenge at Le Bernardin, run by legendary chef Eric Ripert. (155 West 51st St., (212) 554-1100.)