Please pack your knives and go.
how many times have you done Padma LakshmiEvergreen host and judge of Bravo’s reality institute “Head Chef” Said those words to eager, hungry chefs competing for cash prizes and culinary glory?
At least a few hundred at this point, like cooking competition series Its 20th season begins (Thursday, 9 EST/PST). Since its debut in 2006, “Chef” has made Lakshmi a household name, launching the careers of dozens of chefs, weathering a pandemic that brought the restaurant industry to its knees and pea soup and risotto spawned an amusing brawl. And in some ways, it looks like “Chef” is just getting started.
As it heads to London for the first ever “World All-Stars” competition on Season 20, we look back at how “Chef” has crafted a recipe for reality longevity.
What to know about ‘Top Chef’ season 20
For its new season, Bravo sent the series overseas to London for a “World All Stars” competition between alumni of the show’s original American version and many of its international counterparts. And unlike previous All-Star seasons, this new group of contestants includes some past winners in the mix.
Some notable American chefs include Season 19 winner Budd Low, Season 16 finalist Sarah Bradley, and Season 18 finalist Dawn Burrell.
Why ‘Top Chef’ Is Still Collapsing
Some reality shows creep into our collective memories without a whisper and tell us they were there (do you remember “Joe Millionaire”? “Skating With the Stars”? “Mr. Personality”?). A select few become pop-culture institutions that last for decades. Seventeen years on, “Chef” marches forward not only commercially but also creatively, adapting to a changing world better than almost any other long-running series in both subtle and fundamental ways.
Over its first 10 seasons, “Chef” slowly shed its playfulness, Housewives drama and teen antics, becoming a reality-TV Bet in the early 2000s. Somewhere along the way, the show transitioned from simply letting go of its negativity to being a showcase for creative prowess as a force, for merit and greatness. As much as it’s fun to watch judge Tom Colicchio roast a contestant when he tastes something incredible, it’s far more enjoyable to watch stern chefs’ faces light up with joy. This is a stark contrast to the time in Season 2 when one contestant forcibly tried to shave the other’s head.
As the series gained popularity and acclaim within the food industry, the caliber of chefs entering the competition increased dramatically. It began with chefs, line cooks and other young whipsnappers ready to get their hands dirty in pursuit of prize money and fame. But recent seasons have been populated by executive chefs, many of whom already own their own restaurants. The better the chef, the better the food, and they have created some truly delectable, mouth-watering creations over the years.
“Chef” has also responded to changes and a greater zeitgeist in the world of food. The chain has become much better at not alienating foods from non-white cultures and has developed a great respect for them. A high point was the Season 18 recital in Portland, Oregon, which celebrated Pan-African cuisine—a notable blind spot in previous seasons—and indigenous foods, with members of the Umatilla’s confederated tribes attending a dinner. Season 20 is the culmination of this effort, bringing together chefs from around the world to recognize more than just the French and Italian staples that make up so many cookbooks.
In 2023, “Chef” is a well-oiled machine. The producers and judges – including Lakshmi, Colicchio and Gail Simmons – know his beats and his barbs. All these contestants have done this before. Now it remains to be seen who will come out on top for the 20th time.
Please, “Chef,” don’t pack up those knives or go anywhere.
‘Top Chef’ and more on Culinary TV
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ‘Top Chef’: Why It’s Still Ripin’ Up After 20 Seasons