The spontaneous, natural act of sharing a meal, eating with friends, has never seemed so carefully choreographed. The only thing that would make it more artificial is if the gray-haired director asked Zimmern to talk about banchon once more, with feeling.
Starting in Season 6, Top Chef: Las Vegas began a fresh twist on the show’s competition format that stuck: cash money muthafuckin’ prizes. Sure, the ultimate prize was always the $125,000 title of Top Chef. But shooting a season is a grueling 6-week process. Sneaking in a $10-15K cash prize every other Quickfire was good for morale, and imbued chefs with a renewed sense of competitiveness whilst whittling the pack around them down to the finalists.
For example, while Kevin Gillespie lost out on the title during his season, he won fan favorite, and was touted as having won more money than any other Top Chef-testant in history. He’s since been dethroned (after a considerable reign), but it got us thinking: what are the actual Top Chef power rankings? Who’s racked up the most money of all time? And how much money has been given away over the years? After being reduced to glorified data entry slaves, we crunched the numbers and came up with the 11 highest-winning chefs to date in the show’s ten-season history.
A few notes before we begin: while we’re sure winning entire monogrammed GE appliance suites and several-thousand-dollar sashimi knives is fun, there was no way for us to monetize those kinds of prizes. And since The Magical Elves only began giving out cash prizes in Season 6, you may notice that Seasons 1-5 alums are largely underrepresented in this list. We’re sorry.
Also, we made the executive decision to combine the winnings of any given chef across all seasons on which they appeared, which means that All-Stars have a bit of an advantage. But not much: there’s only one All-Star in the top four.
Check out the slideshow below and count down with us to the highest-winning Top Chef-testant of all time.