For season 17 of its culinary competition, Top Chef is bringing back 10 finalists and five front-runners to compete for the title that evaded them the first (or, in some cases, first, second, and third) time they competed on the Bravo reality series for Top Chef: All-Stars L.A. Here, The A.V. Club’s resident Top Chef experts, Randall Colburn and Patrick Gomez, share their thoughts on who has what it takes to finally win the title of Top Chef when the series returns for the season 17 premiere on March 19 (10 p.m. Eastern on Bravo).
2 / 17
Randall’s odds she wins: 25-1. Lisa’s killing it in Brooklyn right now, having recently turned her wildly popular Sweet Chili food truck into a brick-and-mortar restaurant. But while Lisa’s Southeast Asian food is no doubt delicious, it’s been a lifetime since she’s endured the Top Chef pressure cooker. Also, her reputation as one of the series’ biggest villains won’t do her any favors.
Patrick’s odds she wins: 25-1, we’re starting off with an alignment! If Lisa doesn’t completely botch a challenge, there’s a good chance she’ll go far because she’s a great reality show character. But—similar to Sergio on the most recent season of Project Runway—I can’t imagine the judges giving her the win if she plays with the same attitude she did in Chicago. That said, she makes really delicious-looking food.
Average odds: 25-1
3 / 17
Randall’s odds he wins: 30-1. Isn’t he more of a host now? I’m sure Brian’s a great chef, but I can’t imagine he’s been spending much time on the line when Guy’s Grocery Games is calling. Hey, I’d love to be surprised, but he’s got some serious “Stephen Asprinio on season eight” vibes.
Patrick’s odds he wins: 15-1. Brian has proven himself to be a force in the restaurant business. After selling his chain of Searsucker and Herringbone restaurants to the Hakkasan group, he started over in 2018 with a whole new fleet of eateries across the country. Clearly the man knows what he’s doing. After all that success, I could see him winning a Top Chef Masters episode, but wonder if he has the fight in him to make it through a full season.
Average odds: 22.5-1
4 / 17
Randall’s odds he wins: 12-1. One of Colorado’s two dominant Joes, Mustache Joe (a.k.a. Joestachio) was a pasta whiz with an adaptable palate and a pocket full of crystals. Confident, consistent, and talented as hell, Joestachio proved in Colorado that the only way to send him home is to out-cook him, which won’t be easy. The competition here, however, is going to be a lot stronger than it was on his season.
Patrick’s odds he wins: 30-1. Joe. Oh dear, sweet Mustache Joe. He totally could have learned from his first rodeo and could come in with simplified methods and ego in check, but I just don’t see that happening. And I want to root for Joe. I think he makes great TV. But in the end, I think he’ll either burn out in a blaze of overreaching glory or get lost amid the crowded kitchen of pros. Interesting to note, this is the cheftestant we have the most differing opinion on out of the bunch.
Average odds: 21-1
5 / 17
Randall’s odds he wins: 22-1. Nobody got a rawer deal than the newbies on Top Chef: Charleston, who arrived to find they were being Frankensteined into an almost-All-Stars with previous finalists that included Brooke Williamson and John Tesar. Not fair. Jamie was one of the few newbies to hold his own against the dominant vets, but the Charleston local had a bad habit of fumbling when the stakes were highest. I think, to this day, he’s the only chef to get sent home despite having immunity.
Patrick’s odds he wins: 20-1. He didn’t have immunity; he gave up immunity. I have no patience for anyone who does that. I have a lot of respect for someone who does that, but no patience. (Sorry, I’m still bitter about BenDeLa’s Drag Race move.) His focus on sustainable dining made for some great dishes, but I just can’t imagine him having the drive to make it to the end against all these all-stars. He does have a new restaurant opening up in Charleston, though, so that could light a fire in him.
Average odds: 21-1
6 / 17
Randall’s odds she wins: 16-1. Nini! Yes! She was one of my favorite Kentucky chefs and went home not for her cooking, but for her lack of front-of-house skills. Being so fresh off her season, she obviously faces the same challenges as Eric; the difference, however, is that she only got to show a fraction of her skills, having been axed so early. If Jennifer could be this season’s Richard Blais, Nini could be its Mike Isabella, i.e., the chef who leveled up most between seasons.
Patrick’s odds she wins: 25-1. I’m really glad Nini is getting another chance because it always sucks to see a cheftestant go home for something that has nothing to do with their culinary skills. I want to get a drink with Nini. She lights up a room. But her energy could be a negative as winners of this show tend to be super calm, cool, and collected. I need her to hunker down and focus.
Average odds: 20.5-1
7 / 17
Randall’s odds he wins: 15-1. I adore Angelo. He entered DC as an overconfident, untrustworthy villain and left All-Stars New York as a lovable, unrestrained oddball. He fared well in his previous All-Stars season, and he’ll likely do the same here. But one wonders if the imagination he demonstrated on those previous seasons is sustainable—is he still the brash perfectionist he was then? And will he fare better or worse if he’s relaxed in these intervening years?
Patrick’s odds he wins: 25-1. Angelo came into Top Chef in 2010 with a Michelin star already under his belt. And those skills were evident as he made it to the final two against Kevin Sbraga, who is one of my favorite winners. I’d like to imagine Angelo has grown wiser with age and will come in with the right balance of calm and passion. But I fear he’ll tip more toward the latter.
Average odds: 20-1
8 / 17
Randall’s odds she wins: 20-1. Melissa hovered in the middle for most of her previous season, emerging only as a frontrunner in the final challenges. That makes me wonder whether she’ll be able to lead the pack in a field far more competitive and imaginative. That said, her career has skyrocketed since she’s been on the show, and her clean blend of Asian flavors and California cuisine will no doubt distinguish her in this particular group of chefs, many of whom work with more rustic flavors.
Patrick’s odds she wins: 20-1, another alignment! Mel is one of my all-time favorite contestants, and I think a repeat of her middle-of-the-pack performance could work well for her among all these large personalities, but I agree that middle of the pack won’t get you to the end this time around. Too many of those large personalities have the pork chop chops to back up their ego.
Average odds: 20-1
9 / 17
Randall’s odds she wins: 16-1. Stephanie didn’t make it past the qualifying round in Seattle, but was a solid contender when she returned for New Orleans. She might be easy to overlook among so many culinary titans, but her résumé is remarkably diverse—in addition to being versed in French, Italian, and Middle Eastern flavors, she’s also opened a successful donut pop-up and worked as a from-scratch pasta purveyor. Versatility matters on Top Chef.
Patrick’s odds she wins: 20-1. Anyone who opens a donut pop-up is a winner in my book. And jumping off Randall’s comment on versatility: Stephanie now works as a full-time caterer and private chef for multiple families, which means working within certain parameters and mass-producing food in a variety of kitchen environments. Those are all skills that are essential to success on this show. My main fear is she’ll get lost in the fray of bigger personalities.
Average odds: 18-1
10 / 17
Randall’s odds he wins: 18-1. The momentum of rolling into All-Stars fresh off your first outing shouldn’t be discounted—Tiffany Derry and Angelo Sosa, lest we forget, both went far in their post-DC All-Stars. Also, Eric’s refined spin on Ghanaian cuisine instantly distinguishes him in a crowded field. Still, that lack of growth space between seasons could also be a hindrance—has he had enough time to evolve, to develop new recipes suited for competition?
Patrick’s odds he wins: 10-1. Eric’s recent semi-finalist status could actually be a plus here. Out of this crop of all-stars, he’s had his head in the game most recently. And what a level head it is—keeping calm under pressure is what will differentiate a finalist from the rest of these fantastic chefs. Eric often had to explain the context of his Ghanaian-inspired dishes last season, so hopefully it’s the judges who took the time to evolve during the hiatus.
Average odds: 14-1
11 / 17
Randall’s odds he wins: 12-1. First off, I am so glad Kevin is back. The Atlanta native was one of the best, most charming cheftestants from what most fans agree is the best Top Chef season, and we’ve since learned that his distracted nature during the finale was due to him being in the midst of a divorce. He deserves a second shot at the Top Chef crown, but, more than a decade later, is Kevin’s pork-forward comfort fare in line with current culinary trends?
Patrick’s odds he wins: 15-1. You’ve gotta love Kevin. I mean, he was chosen as fan favorite his season for a reason. But it’s been over a decade since he appeared on the show and if he shows up with the same schtick of “all pork, all the time,” he’s going to run into a wall pretty fast. But since his time on Top Chef, he’s opened three successful restaurants and a consulting business, so I’m also rooting for him to surprise us and be ready to do more than pig out.
Average odds: 13.5-1
12 / 17
Lee Anne Wong
Lee Anne Wong
Randall’s odds she wins: 13-1. Lee Anne may be an OG, but she’s still got it. She proved as much when she overcame Jen Carroll, Kwame Onwuachi, and freakin’ Marcel on season 15’s Last Chance Kitchen. The thing is, she barely got a chance to flex her skills in Colorado due to the altitude affecting her then-pregnancy, and we’ve seen that being good in the head-to-head format of Last Chance Kitchen doesn’t always mean success on Top Chef proper.
Patrick’s odds she wins: 10-1. Leanne’s pregnancy! I almost forgot how bad I felt for her when the altitude got in her way. I’m really glad she’s getting a chance to come back and show off how she’s grown. She recently moved to Maui, where she opened a restaurant and is now the executive chef for Hawaiian Airlines. I’m interested to see how the New York native has embraced Hawaiian flavors in her work. Side note: I had no idea she served as the supervising culinary producer on the show for six seasons… Seems unfair?
Average odds: 11.5-1
13 / 17
Randall’s odds she wins: 10-1. Karen’s been killing it since her 2015 season. She won a James Beard for Best Chef: Northeast in 2018, opened a new restaurant in 2019, and has even returned to Top Chef as a judge. She was fierce in her season—as adept at front-of-house duties as she was commanding a kitchen—and went home not for poor execution but a lack of restraint. Based on her most recent bona fides, she’s clearly gotten a handle on her peripatetic vision.
Patrick’s odd’s she wins: 12-1. You have to respect a cheftestant who shines while doing front-of-house. It shows that—on top of her impressive culinary skills—she has the patience and time-management skills necessary to make it And you can’t underestimate the valuable lessons that can be learned while sitting on the other side of the judges’ table. If Karen took good mental notes about how the decisions are made, it could be the leg up she needs to go further than seventh place this time.
Average odds: 11-1
14 / 17
Randall’s odds she wins: 10-1. Jen’s got something to prove, that’s for sure. Despite being one of Las Vegas’ iconic final four, she was swiftly axed from both her subsequent turns on All-Stars and Denver’s Last Chance Kitchen due to, depending on the season, some mix of nerves and ego. To come back for a fourth time means she feels in control of her past failings, confident that her refined pedigree and trial-and-error experience is enough to sustain her throughout the competition. She could be this season’s Richard Blais, by which I mean the spurned chef who will stop at nothing to redeem themselves.
Patrick’s odds she wins: 10-1, our third agreement. (I swear I wrote mine down before reading Randall’s odds.) In addition to the seasons mentioned above, Jen also competed on the short-lived spin-off Top Chef Duels. The woman loves a good Top Chef competition. I’ve always enjoyed Jen’s energy, and if she can harness that confidence into some killer dishes she could finally see herself the victor.
Average odds: 10-1
15 / 17
Randall’s odds he wins: 7-1. Honestly, I feel like this is Gregory’s season to lose. It’s not as if he was robbed—like when Nick won over Nina, or Hosea won over Stefan—but it took every trick in Mei’s book to overcome his elegant, Asian-inspired dishes. He’s a technical master with a Jean-Georges pedigree, a cool head, and enough imagination to make the majority of his dishes unimpeachable. I’m jazzed to see what he’s picked up in the intervening years.
Patrick’s odds he wins: 9-1. I have to admit, I have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to Gregory. So I’m really basing this ranking on the fact that he was able to best Mel, who I’ve already admitted is one of my favorite chefs in Top Chef history. If he was that close to beating her, he can make it to the end against anyone.
Average odds: 8-1
16 / 17
Randall’s odds he wins: 8-1. Bryan’s a curious case, having returned to the Top Chef universe both as a judge and as the runner-up of Top Chef Masters’ fifth season—doesn’t that disqualify him from this? I still think Gregory’s the man to beat, but Bryan is probably his strongest competitor, both for his measured, cool-headed demeanor and his familiarity with every aspect of this competition.
Patrick’s odds he wins: 7-1. Well, this is it. When you average our odds, Bryan is the one we think has the best shot at winning season 17—barely edging out Gregory, and that might be just because I don’t remember Gregory well enough. Bryan is a fan favorite, a judge favorite, and a calculated beast in the kitchen. He’s been runner-up twice. It’s time for his win.
Average odds: 7.5-1
17 / 17