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Saturday, December 9

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TV Tue Feb 03 2015

Who Wins Top Chef? A Statistical Breakdown

Top Chef ingredient breakdown
With the finale of "Top Chef Boston" airing this week, I decided to cook up some stats on my favorite cooking show. These numbers are more observatory than predictive, though they offer some fairly interesting insights into Bravo's (only watchable) show. I beat up countless data points, sliced and diced the results, and whipped up three different rankings on 1) gender of the participant, 2) his or her home state, and 3) ingredients used in winning elimination challenges. Here are my results, presented on a glistening silver platter.

Gender Rankings

In this scale, I ranked the Top 12 positions by gender across all 11 seasons. Sixty percent of the bottom three individuals (from the top twelve positions) were female, while only 40 percent were male. This trend was reversed when looking at the Top 3 -- only 36 percent were female, while 64 percent were male.This is especially relevant as there have only been two female winners in "Top Chef," compared to nine male winners.

You could say, well, that's because there were more male chefs overall. However, even after accounting for the number of people in each gender group, the average position for women is 7th place, while for men, it's 6th place. This is surprisingly not a large difference, but this disparity becomes increasingly bigger as you get further into the competition. Luckily, this has slowly changed season after season, as female chefs like Sarah Grueneberg (Season 9), Kristen Kish (Season 10), and now Mei Lin in the Boston finale display serious talent.

Another interesting layer of analysis might look at the experience level of each participant -- are they sous chefs, executive chefs, line cooks? Have they opened their own restaurant? Experiences like these would take into account leadership and culinary dexterity, both of which are obviously crucial in this show.

State Rankings

"Top Chef" is not an accurate reflection of the US -- in fact, fewer than half of all states have been represented. I suppose that's acceptable, as I don't know many award-winning chefs from Arkansas. That being said, I tabulated the "home" state of each of the Top 15 chefs from each season (sans season 8, which was All-Stars). Out of the 162 chefs, a whopping 26 percent came from California, followed by New York (19 percent) and Illinois (9 percent). When I looked at place rankings by state, California, New York and Illinois were all fairly similar -- the average position was about 8.7th place out of the top 15, so halfway.

A high-performing outlier was Nevada, with 10 chefs and an average ranking of 7.5th place. Texas also did pretty well -- seven chefs and an average ranking of 5.86th place. Georgia, on the other end, did pretty poorly with eight participants but an average ranking of 10.63.

Ingredient Rankings

I created 10 word clouds using all the winning elimination challenge recipes from the most recent 10 seasons. Interestingly, "chocolate" was a fairly common word across multiple seasons, which is odd considering everyone seemed to hate making dessert. Other popular words included "cream," "chicken" and "puree." Surprisingly, ravioli and fennel did not make the cut.

I also attempted to calculate whether cooking a certain protein was correlated with winning a challenge, but I did not find a pattern. I suppose you can screw up any protein if you cook it wrong.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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