in Vizes

Top Chef Season 11: Did Nina deserve to win?


Despite an extremely strong season, Nina comes in 2nd place.

What an upset! This season’s Top Chef finale was certainly a nail-biter. Chef Nina Compton performed exceptionally well throughout the season and was favored to win from early on. Yet, somehow in the final two episodes, underdog Nicholas Elmi managed to emerge victorious – which many regarded as an unfair decision. Since many fans were very upset by this, and I thought it would be an interesting experiment to try to understand why the judges are standing by their “shocking” finale decision.

Feel free to skip this list if you are familiar with Top Chef, but for those of you who aren’t Top Chef experts, here’s a quick run-down on how the show works:

    • Contestant chefs compete in cooking challenges each episode to win prizes (usually money), and eventually for a grand prize of $100K.
    • The top-three chefs are distinguished in each episode, and one chef is crowned the winner for that episode.
    • Conversely, the bottom-three chefs are admonished, and the worst-performing chef is eliminated.
    • Each eliminated chef has one chance to reenter the competition in the finale via Last Chance Kitchen, where they face-off versus the most recently defeated chef after each episode. The winner continues on, and the loser weeps bitter tears of defeat.
    • Most episodes have a QuickFire Challenge which test speed or specific cooking skills. Usually grants immunity or cash prizes.
    • Drama ensues – see clip below.

Based on the rules above, I created a scoring system to measure how successfully each chef performed in each episode. See the scoring criteria below:


Performance Points
Winner +3
Top-Three +2
Pass +1
Bottom-Three +0
Eliminated -1
QuickFire Win  +1
Last Chance Win +1

I’ve summarized the outcomes by episode and contestant in the view below and also ranked them in the “bump chart” at the bottom. I’ve also included each chef’s restaurant, Yelp info, and OpenTable links if you’re curious to try out some of their cooking for yourself. Just mouse over the restaurant locator and click away!

Looking at the data, it would seem that Nina did perform very strongly throughout the season; however, Nicholas made an even stronger comeback in the last two episodes to successfully clinch the Top Chef title. So even though Nina ended up with more points total, it was Nicholas performed the best in the finals. As the saying goes on Top Chef, “You are judged by what you put on the plate”, so the decision is in alignment with the rules of the show, and it would seem that the evaluation was a fair one. That being said, Chef Nina performed fantastically throughout the entire season – which is no small feat – and if there were a title for Best Overall Chef, it would most certainly belong to Chef Nina Compton.

So how did Nicholas manage to perform so well despite an inconsistent season? Well, the chefs have several months of downtime to practice their craft between the normal episodes and the semifinals. It would seem that Nicholas spent his time improving on his weaknesses during the hiatus. (Even the judges commented that the hiatus had greatly improved Nicholas’ cooking!) In the end, this competitive edge helped him to secure a full-sweep of the semifinal round, winning both the QuickFire Challenge and Judge’s Table, and finally again in the championship round. In the end, I guess it goes to show what a big difference a little elbow grease and a few months of time can make. I’ll take a page out of Chef Nicholas’ book to keep striving to meet my goals as well.

So have you made your reservations yet? I have mine at Nicholas Elmi’s new restaurant Laurel in early August, and I hope I’ll get to congratulate him on a well-deserved win. After all, what good are goals without tasty rewards at the finish line?

Feel free to leave a comment! I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this analysis. Photos courtesy of

Delicious-looking fare from Laurel!

Delicious-looking fare from Laurel!