Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio Talk Top Chef's Changes, Celeb Judges, and Why This Season They're Messin' with Texas

Twenty-nine chef'testants, a web component, and Chef Emeril Lagasse.... everything really is bigger in Texas!

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Bravo

Top Chef is back with an all new season of culinary challenges, and this time, our favorite foodies are heating things up in the Lone Star State for what Bravo promises will be the most exciting season yet.

So why venture deep into the heart of Texas this time ‘round?

“We hadn’t been down to the South in a while,” host Padma Lakshmi tells The Morton Report. “We’d been to Miami several seasons ago. And you know, one thing that’s great about traveling is you get to really see local color and regional cooking. …

“Moving cities is about making the show different and special every season. And every season wherever we go infuses the challenges with its own kinds of flavor and influence. So it was nice to be in Texas,” Lakshmi adds.

But the scenery isn’t the only thing changing in this super-sized ninth season.

In the premiere episode, airing tonight on Bravo, a record 29 hopefuls will compete to fill one of only 16 spots on the show and battle it out for the title of Top Chef.

And in another twist, when contestants are asked to pack their knives and leave, they won’t be going home, but instead, they'll head to the Last Chance Kitchen and have the opportunity to cook their way back into the televised competition in special webisodes hosted by head judge Tom Colicchio.

“It addresses the person whom the viewer thinks got a raw deal or maybe they were more talented and they were kicked out too soon,” Colicchio explains of the show’s new element. “I think back to like Tre [Wilcox] who was kicked out sort of in the middle of the competition for making - for Restaurant Wars and he made a series of bad dishes but everybody thought we should give him a break because he had competed and done well earlier in some of the earlier episodes. …

“And so what it does though, it gives that person the opportunity to get back in,
says Tom, teasing, "I can’t say when, I can’t say who. But yes, whoever is the last person standing in the last chance kitchen will get back into the competition.”

What hasn’t changed is the slew of celebrity guest judges making their way into the Top Chef kitchen, which this season will include Cat Cora, John Besh, Tim Love, Patti LaBelle, and Oscar winner Charlize Theron, whom Lakshmi says “really brought out a great amount of creativity and a level of skill that was beautiful to look at and to taste.

“It’s wonderful when you see these chefs use their skill and their palates too, and be inspired so much by a challenge that each plate is different and special for its own sake. It was very hard to judge that dinner.”

All that and Pee-Wee Herman? Can it possibly get any better?

Find out tonight when Top Chef: Texas premieres on Bravo at 10|9c.

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Shayla C. Perry is a freelance journalist based in New York. In addition to interviewing some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry, and covering the latest in celebrity news & gossip, her forte (read: obsession) is examining the sensationalism, gall, and sheer genius of reality TV.

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