Winner: Harold Dieterle
Runner-Up: Tiffani Faison
Showcasing some of the brightest up-and-coming talent in the culinary world, the competing chefs hailed from varied backgrounds including culinary graduates and students, personal celebrity chefs, a Sous Chef, a line cook, a nutritionist, a Tournant Chef, and a self-taught mother of three.
Katie Lee Joel hosted this inside look at the inspired and fiercely competitive world of the culinary arts. Married to music icon Billy Joel, Katie's lifelong passion for cuisine began at an early age when she first learned to cook from her grandmother while growing up in West Virginia.
Tom Colicchio, one of the culinary world's most celebrated figures and owner of New York City's Gramercy Tavern and Craft Restaurants, served as chief chef and guided the contestants through the stringent challenges that tested not only their skills in the kitchen, but whether they had the customer service, management and teamwork abilities required of a "Top Chef".
Food expert Gail Simmons of Food & Wine magazine also served as a regular judge for the season.
The competing chefs had to intensely peel, whisk, grate, and mince their way through a series of challenges ranging from preparing elaborate parties and gourmet dinners to working with exotic delicacies including de-inking, trimming, cutting and preparing an octopus.
Each episode of Top Chef, save for the finale, had two challenges.
In the Quickfire Challenge, each chef was asked to cook a dish with certain requirements (for example, using specific ingredients or to inspire a certain taste) or participate in a culinary-related challenge (for example, a mise-en-place relay or a taste test).
They were usually given an hour or less to complete these tasks. A guest judge selected one or more chefs as the best in the challenge.
In most cases, the winning chef(s) was granted immunity from the following Elimination Challenge, though they could also gain an additional reward (such as being team captains for a team challenge).
In the Elimination Challenge, the chefs had to prepare one or more dishes to meet the challenge requirements. Many of these were individual challenges and required several courses, although some instances required teams to complete the challenge.
The chefs had from a few hours to a few days to complete this challenge. If specified by the challenge, the chefs were given a limited budget to shop at a specific food store and place setting stores to complete their task.
Each of the four judges sampled the food and rated the individuals or teams. At the end of the challenge, the chefs waited to be brought to the Judges' Table, where the four judges deliberated on the best and worst dishes.
The top individuals or teams were called in, and were asked questions of their meals before they were notified of their placement.
One individual was named the winner of the challenge and could be awarded an additional prize by the guest judge. Then, the bottom individuals or teams were brought to the judges, and similar discussions of their courses was played out.
From this group, one chef or team was determined to be the worst, with one chef being asked to "pack your knives and go."
This was followed by a knife packing sequence for the eliminated chef, and a clip of his or her exit video, to close out the episode.
Midway through the season, the contestants participated in a "Restaurant Wars" (or similarly named) Elimination Challenge. They were split into two teams, which had to transform an empty room into a restaurant within a set time limit and budget, choosing the name, theme, decor, and menu.
In the final challenge, the two remaining chefs prepared a multiple course dinner with the help of previously eliminated chefs. The winning chef was selected based on several factors including food quality, their ability to lead their selected chefs, and general performance during the show.
In each episode, some of San Francisco's most renowned chefs were guest judges including Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lys, Elizabeth Falkner of Citizen Cake, Laurent Manrique of Aqua, and Mike Yakura of Le Colonial.
"Queer Eye's" Ted Allen made a special appearance to judge a special challenge where the competing chefs had to serve a dinner party to his guests.
The first season was set in the culinary mecca of San Francisco, a city increasingly known for its innovative cuisine from Fusion cooking to a fanatic appreciation of fresh and organic food products.
The region is connected to world-class vineyards, and in one episode the competing chefs had the daunting task of preparing and serving food to a room full of top Napa chefs including Phillippe Jeanty of Bistro Jeanty, Keith Luce of Press, Greg Cole of Celadon, James Devitt of Budo, Cindy Pawlcyn of Mustards Grill, Victor J. Scargle of Julia's Kitchen at COPIA, Doug Keane of Cyrus, Todd Humphries of Martini House, and John Ash of John Ash and Co.
The spectacular finale episode was shot in Las Vegas, with Harold Dieterle emrging victorious over Tiffani Faison. Dieterle received $100,000 in seed money to help encourage his culinary career, which he used to help finance the opening of his own restaurant in New York in May 2007, called Perilla.
He was also featured in Food & Wine magazine, appeared at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen in June 2006, and most importantly, earn the prestigious title of "Top Chef".
Season 1 Chefs
Contestants in order of elimination:
- Kenneth Lee (Episode 1)
- Brian Hill (Episode 3)
- Cynthia Sestito (Episode 3)
- Candice Kumai (Episode 4)
- Lisa Parks (Episode 5)
- Andrea Beaman (Episode 6)
- Miguel Morales (Episode 7)
- Stephen Asprinio (Episode 8)
- Lee Anne Wong (Episode 9)
- Dave Martin (Episode 11)
- Tiffani Faison (Runner-Up)
- Harold Dieterle (Winner)