Reality cooking competitions serve up some of the best viewing on TV. You get the joy of watching chefs at war with each other (and all the back-stabbing, ego mania and melt-downs that go with it) and you get to see their innovative solutions to challenges. Plus their final creations are far more mouth watering than any Project Runway collection.
Here are the five best reality cooking competitions on TV:
1. ‘Top Chef’
Since 2006, Bravo’s Top Chef has pitted numerous rising chefs in competition against each other in challenges that test their culinary skills and creativity. Three colorful judges and unique challenges make the show a fulfilling creation.
Each episodes features a Quickfire and Elimination challenge. A fan favorite is Restaurant Wars, the elimination challenge where two teams launch pop-up restaurants. The top three chefs of the season compete in the finale for the chance to win $200,000 (previously $100,000) and an editorial feature in Food & Wine Magazine.
While Top Chef focuses on established, professional chefs, Fox’s MasterChef features amateur and home cooks. One hundred chefs cook their signature dish but only fourteen will really compete. Contestants must meet challenges like cooking with strange ingredients and recreating a unusual dishes. The judges are vineyard owner Joe Bastianich; chef Graham Ellio and a kinder, gentler Hell’s Kitchen chef Gordon Ramsay.
3. ‘Hells Kitchen’
If you like to imagine world-renowned chef Gordon Ramsay as a strict but loving father-figure mentor, watch MasterChef. If you prefer to watch an acidic, bile-spewing Ramsay put aspiring chefs through incomparable challenges and then be brutally honest in assessing their flaws–and when I say ‘honest’ I mean ‘devastating’–then Hell’s Kitchen is the show for you. There’s a reason I ranked MasterChef higher: I’m tired of the verbal abuse that passes for criticism. Still, there is something undeniably compelling about the Fox cooking competition or it wouldn’t have survived for so long.
4. ‘The Next Iron Chef
The Next Iron Chef is a spin-off of Food Network’s Iron Chef America and submits ten highly successful chefs to food challenges in locales around the globe. The finale pits the top two contestants against each other in the Food Network’s Kitchen Stadium, where the winner is declared a new Iron Chef and can compete on Iron Chef America.
Former Queer Eye for the Straight Guy culinary expert, Ted Allen, hosts this Food Network cooking competition, where chefs compete by cooking three course meals. The twist–that each course must include ingredients from a mystery box–leads to delightful creations as chefs struggle with incorporating things like Animal Crackers and seaweed. But Chopped also features a fresh batch of cooking contenders each episode, so viewers never have the chance to get to know them or root for favorites through a full season.
6. Honorable Mention: Spin-offs
Like most movie sequels, reality spin-offs rarely succeed in recreating the magic of their predecessors. But there are a few that have managed to beat the odds. Here are three reality cooking competition spin-offs as engaging as the shows that spawned them:
- Top Chef: Just Desserts: A logical spin-off from Top Chef–where season after season, chefs where taken down by failed desserts–this competition follows pastry chefs delivering mouth watering creations.
- Iron Chef America: Sure, Food Network’s Iron Chef America gave birth to Next Iron Chef, but before that it was itself a spin-off of the Japanese original. It features cook-offs between some of the best chefs in America, including Cat Cora and Bobby Flay.
- Top Chef Masters: Similarly, this Top Chef progeny stars world-renowned chefs. Each week chefs compete against each other, and one is eliminated until the finale where the remaining chefs have a cook-off for the $100,000 grand prize (which is donated to the charity of their choice).