Top Chef 8 Preview: All-Star Alignment

Now that the debacle that is Top Chef: Just Desserts has run its course, the flagship show returns with a twist. Returning to New York City for its eighth season, the show will not feature a new crop of chef’testants battling it out for culinary supremacy and top prizes. Instead, the producers are pulling together an all-star cast of previous competitors all with one thing in common, they did not win last time. While never officially tag-lined, this season can easily be called the “best never to win” season (with a few exceptions).

Eighteen chefs in total have been chosen, several from each season; though looking at the distribution, personality and talent probably were more involved in the process than trying to have an even distribution across the seasons. Here is a breakdown of all of the chefs as we analyze their previous performances and try to predict how they’ll do the second time around. If you want to know who we thought is missing from this season, check out our Top Chef 8 omissions.

Carla – One of the wackiest characters the show has seen, Carla lived off of taking chances and taking strange approaches to her dishes. When they paid off it resulted in big wins, but her inconsistency made it difficult to take her seriously when she made it all the way to the finale. In a battle of the cream of the crop, we wonder if her chaotic personality will allow her to thrive in the thicket, or if she’ll just be crushed and cast aside. We’re betting on the latter.

Fabio –Everyone loves Fabio. He might be the single most beloved chef’testant in the show’s history. Aside from his charm Fabio could flat out cook, dazzling judges and fellow contestants alike with his clean flavors, incredible homemade pastas and creative ability to influence Italian influences across cuisines. Along with Stefan, Fabio was one of the Season 5 favorites, but a few stumbles at the end were his undoing. We like him as one of the top contenders for Season 8.

Tiffany – At first brush Tiffany from Season 7 seemed like one of those happy go lucky chef’testants that would stick around for a few episodes, be a nice person that everyone liked, but eventually get booted when the talent of the rest of the chefs just overwhelmed her. She’d pack her knives while dripping effusive praise on her fellow chefs and just generally come off as happy to be there. Tiffany certainly was nice and was well liked around the kitchen, but she was no pushover, winning two quickfires and two challenges. She also didn’t appear in the bottom until the episode she was eliminated in, and by that point, there were 5 chefs left. Dark horse? Maybe at the start of season 7, but this time people will see her coming.

Spike –Spike is one of the more successful Top Chef alumni. His profile in the cooking world has exploded since his appearance on Season 5 and one of his restaurants in Washington D.C.”We the Pizza” is extremely popular. He also took part as a challenger on Food Network’s Iron Chef America, where he lost in competition with Iron Chef Michael Symon. Spike is a definitely wild-card. He can get distracted and his creativity/bravado sometimes plays against him when flavors just don’t come together, but if he keeps composure and doesn’t get thrown off by the spectacle of an all-star season, we predict a strong run for him.

Richard –Like Spike, Richard was also a challenger on Iron Chef America, but lost as well. He has been featured on the show as a sous chef to Cat Cora on occasion. Blaize might be the best chef coming into this challenge and is one of the favorites to win it all. Anthony Bourdain, now officially a judge for this season, guessed that Richard would win during Season 4 and declared him the best chef. It didn’t work out for Richard, though he certainly was in the mix near the end. Given his unique cooking style and implementation of new age techniques Richard represents a suitable challenge to the rest of the field.

Casey –A season three finalist, Casey eventually lost to Hung (no shame there), but showed her quality with consistent cooking during the season, winning 3 quickfires and actually back to back challenges. She was in the bottom three for a stretch of 4 of 6 episodes, so one might say she had a little luck to not be eliminated. Yet, to come so close to dismissal and turn that around to make the finals with a strong showing is impressive. Given the level of talent in Season 8, she won’t likely survive a stretch that poor again. Odds are the experience of an intense Season 3 will do enough to let her hang around a bit.

Antonia –Antonia from Season 4 is an interesting case. She won 4 quickfires and was the last chef eliminated before the finale, but she doesn’t stand out. She was consistent and trended toward the middle the whole season, only ending up in the top or the bottom a handful of times collectively. That might not make for memorable dishes or an overall fan favorite, but it can help her to win. Given all the strong personalities, trying to trend to the middle and let other people take wild chances to destroy themselves might be a good strategy in Season 8. Probably not a good enough strategy to win it all though (because eventually you’ll need to catch a break).

Dale L. –An underrated chef, Dale was one of the finalists in season three and actually gave wunderkind Hung a run for his money in the finale, pulling off an impressive set of courses, but falling short. Top Chef All-stars -aside from being a place to reconvene the great characters of the series – is perfectly suited for Dale L. a chef who showed great promise during the show, but ultimately was outdone in the end by a better chef. We like him as a potential dark horse to make it through to the latter stages.

Dale T. –A head scratcher to say the least, its unclear why Dale T. was included in the cast. I have a hard time remembering anything about his appearance on season 4, other than the fact that at times he showed he has some fire and will speak his mind if something bothers him. Apparently he won 3 challenges including two in a row, but I honestly can’t remember any of them. Given the list of chefs we wish they included (see below) its difficult to see the choice here. Maybe he will prove us wrong.

Elia – If there is any doubt that a wee bit of chaos surrounds Elia, look no further than when she volunteered to shave her head during the end of Season 2, as a sign of solidarity with the other chefs (sans Marcel). Aside from that Elia was extremely accomplished and at several points during that season it could easily be said that she was the best chef. She also is one of the few contestants we’ve seen who wasn’t entirely frightened by the prospect of making a dessert. That could be a huge competitive advantage this season where you know desserts will play a role at some point.

Mike – Essentially did nothing in Season 6. He won one quickfire, hung around for a good portion of the season then was gone. He epitomizes the type of chef we meet early on, quickly identify as someone who doesn’t have “it”, but is there to round out the cast. Then you look 8 episodes later and somehow they have stuck around, usually because the really poor chefs are getting eliminated first and thus chefs like Mike are just waiting for their turn. Problem was, Mike talked a BIG game, so he came off as more accomplished and perhaps as a more dangerous contestant then he really was. The bark was definitely worse than the bite, and this time talking a big game isn’t going to win him any points, or challenges.

Angelo – Another contestant for whom this season was tailor made for. Angelo made the finale and ended up making a pretty decent meal (aided a ton by Hung), but he was struck ill for a good portion of it and was certainly not 100%. Now he gets a chance at redemption. We’ll see how he handles being placed in a cast of really strong personalities that he can’t just disregard or boss around. We’re not too high on him winning the whole thing despite his skill, unless he starts to put out food that isn’t just drenched in Asian influences.

Stephen –Returning from way back in Season 1, Stephen has the unique honor of being the only Sommelier to appear on Top Chef. At times, he appeared more interested in his wine choice and his appearance than in the food he was producing, nevertheless Stephen is an able bodied competitor and a really interesting character to cast into this lot.

Marcel – Really the only villain that Top Chef has ever known, the Season 2 star was as easy to hate as anyone, probably from a combination of his hair, ALL the foams, and his name (c’mon how easy is it to root against someone named Marcel?). Marcel ended up as the runner up to Ilan but he has benefited a bit by his legend proceeding him. Marcel only won one challenge and it was the second to last episode. He was actually in the bottom of the first episode and most of the time hung around in the middle. He didn’t even win a quickfire till the season was half over. You wonder if going into Season 8, the other chef’testants know that or if the legend that is Marcel will astound and intimidate some of them. If it does, maybe Marcel has a chance to snatch the title. We don’t think so.

Tiffani –The runner up to Harold during Season 1, Tiffani was once considered the best chef never to win, though subsequent chef’testants like Stefan certainly now have claim to that title. Tiffani probably would have come out on top in some of the subsequent seasons that have been sub-par (season 7 anyone?). Tiffani was one of the more focused and strong competitors in the show’s history, winning back to back challenges and despite sputtering near the end, making it to the finale. She famously irked Dave to the point where he proclaimed “I’m not your bitch, bitch!” so we know that she can get under the skin of other competitors. How that abrasive personality plays out with some of these chefs, like Angelo, should provide great television. Another one of the more likely chefs to win.

Tre –He lasted only nine episodes in Season 3, but he won 3 challenges, including two in a row and the very first one. What does that say about Tre? Is he just a strong starter who doesn’t need to feel out the show at all, but will eventually fizzle out? Or did he just sort of get lucky? Obviously not enough information to make a determination, but Tre can’t be overlooked. In a show where confidence is everything, especially against this level of talent, getting off to a strong start will be key. Expect Tre to come out strong, but still not convinced he has the staying power. We’d like him to prove us wrong.

Jennifer –Epic-level chef Eric Ripert’s protege, Jennifer was probably one of the early favorites to win Season 6. She started off strong, ended up with 4 quickfire wins, but only won one challenge and was in the bottom for three straight challenges leading up to her elimination. Given her background and pedigree it makes it a little puzzling that she didn’t have a stronger showing, but Top Chef 8 is all about redemption, making her the perfect candidate. Despite what would be classified as a disappointing season for her, overlooking Jennifer would be a bad idea. Hard to be a dark horse when Chef Ripert is mentioned, but if she isn’t a favorite now, we won’t be surprised if she plays her way into the role.

Jamie – Another returning alumni of Season 5, Jamie was a hardheaded chef who gained confidence through the middle of the season, where she had back-to-back challenge victories. She seemed like a really strong performer but went out without any sort of slow decline or several weeks languishing in the bottom three. A here today gone tomorrow contestant. Still trying to figure out if she just had a bad day, or if she’s not as consistent a chef  as we thought. Jamie was also the type to have a few run ins and definitely won’t shy away when someone rubs her the wrong way. If the sparks begin to fly during Top Chef 8 don’t be surprised if Jamie helps ignite it.

Judge Anthony Bourdain – After years of teasing the Top Chef faithful with one off guest appearances and the occasional fill in role when needed, chef Anthony Bourdain officially joins the party as a regular judge. In the past Bourdain has pulled no punches, calling out chefs for poor work, effusively praising excellent execution, and when needed telling chefs he has no idea what the hell they were doing. We see him fitting in well with a cast of judges who, while not afraid to offer criticism, often times do lack a bit of theatricality and flair when it comes to deliberation.

Though Chef Colicchio has shown himself to be pretty apt when it comes to biting one liners. Bourdain is a wildcard, but not nearly as chaotic as it would seem. He knows his food and his extensive travels have given him a palette that is nearly unrivaled in the food world. His demeanor is that of pure evil (though we say that will all the love and affection in the world) though, but a little mischievous as well. Think more Loki than Diablo. We’d love to have drinks with him and are guessing he would be a fan of the Dark Wanderer.

This All-Star cast and season are just what the show needs to shake off a bit of the stale feeling that has settled onto it the last few seasons. Given that the contestants are known, hopefully less time will be spent in exposition and more time in the kitchen with inventive challenges and quickfires. And can you imagine what Restaurant Wars might look like with this cast? December 1st is the premiere so get the DVR’s ready.