Bravo’s Top Chef TV series is to reality food TV what the Real World is to the genre as a whole. That is, Top Chef is the longstanding stalwart of the category and the show that defined the genre. On Wednesday, October 2nd, Top Chef slips back into its familiar slot at 10pm EST as the show returns for its 9th season. Set in Texas this time, the show is sure to be full of faux drama, words that annoy foodies, and phrases like “Don’t Mess with Texas.” Even so, there are still a lot of reasons to watch what will happen.
The most important thing about Top Chef: Texas is that it will also mark the return of the “What Was That Ingredient?” series. [Thank you for your rousing applause and wild cheers after hearing that important breaking news]. Meanwhile, there are a few other motivating factors competing for your attention. Details (and potential spoilers) after the jump!
While all previous eight seasons were essentially limited to a single city (two if you count the finale), Top Chef Season 9 is dedicated to the entire state of Texas. The show is “in the can” having filmed in San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston. That alone should allow for some fairly interesting challenges and lay the foundation for some pretty diverse culinary opportunities.
Hugh Acheson, who is well known for his stint on Top Chef Masters and his strong culinary presence in Atlanta, has been added to the cast as a judge. Acheson joins Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, and celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse in that capacity. You might be interested in some of the guest judges: über hottie Charlize Theron and comedian Paul Ruebens (aka Pee-wee Herman) are set to appear (amongst others). Herman appeared at the Alamo, so I’m curious to see if the storyline from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure comes into play here.
The two other notable amendments to Top Chef Texas are the introduction of a new challenge AND the expanded list of contestants. In years past, each episode was divided into a Quickfire Challenge and an Elimination Challenge. The former set the stage for the rest of the episode (with the winner usually gaining elimination immunity and/or some significant reward) and the latter part determined who went home. Those will remain intact; but on Top Chef Season 9, a new challenge entitled Last Chance Kitchen has been introduced.
Borrowing from Survivor, Last Chance Kitchen is a webisode series that gives contestants a shot at redemption. Hosted by Tom Colicchio, each week LCK allows for two eliminated personalities to compete against one and other for the opportunity to return to the show. No further details are out there at this juncture, so I’m not exactly sure how this will shake out. I suspect the web series will feel very much like an extension of the TV show and for it to be several weeks before any eliminated cast member returns.
Hand in hand with Last Chance Kitchen is the other big change to the show. This year, a whopping 29 cast members have been brought on board. It seems obvious that the increase in number is directly related to the introduction of Last Chance Kitchen. My guess is that a significant number of them (13 perhaps?) will be cut right out of the gate. UPDTATE: Yup, it goes from 29 to 16 in the first episode.
But beyond all the hype and hoopla, the thing we’re most interested in is the lineup of contestants. Here’s a brief alphabetical rundown of the 29 people with a shot at taking home Top Chef Texas.
- Nyesha Arrington, 28 – Los Angeles, Calif., Wilshire Restaurant.
- Lindsay Autry, 29 – West Palm Beach, Fla., Omphoy Ocean Resort &Michelle Bernstein
- Jonathan Baltazar, 36 – Long Beach, Calif., Heights Cuisine.
- Ty-Lör Boring, 34 – Brooklyn, N.Y., Spasso
- Molly Brandt, 30 – Hollywood, Fla., Allure of the Seas for Royal Caribbean
- Chaz Brown, 29 – New York, N.Y., Fatty Crab
- Kimberly Calichio, 27 – New York, N.Y., Fishtail by David Burke
- Beverly Kim, 31 – Chicago, Ill., Aria Restaurant
- Chris Crary, 29 – Los Angeles, Calif., Whist Restaurant in the Viceroy Hotel
- Andrew Curren, 32 – Austin, Texas , 24 Diner
- Berenice deAraujo, 33 – Miami, Fla., Sra. Martinez
- Janine Falvo, 37 – Atlanta, Ga., Briza Restaurant
- Richie Farina, 28 – Chicago, Ill., MOTO
- Sarah Grueneberg, 29 – Chicago, Ill., Spiaggia
- Chris Jones, 30 – Chicago, Ill., MOTO
- Edward Lee, 38 – Louisville, Ky., 610 Magnolia
- Whitney Otawka, 30 – Cumberland Island, Ga., Greyfield Inn [She has since moved to Farm 255 in Athens, GA]
- Simon Pantet, 30 – Seattle, Wash., Twenty-Two Doors
- Colin Patterson, 37 – Seattle, Wash., Sutra
- Laurent Quenioux, 51 – Los Angeles, Calif., Vertical Wine Bistro
- Paul Qui, 30 – Austin, Texas, Uchiko Restaurant
- Keith Rhodes, 39 – Wilmington, N.C., Catch Restaurants
- Grayson Schmitz, 27 – New York, N.Y., Exec. Chef
- Tyler Stone, 22 – Sacramento, Calif., Personal Chef
- Heather Terhune, 39 – Chicago, Ill., Sable Kitchen and Bar
- Chuy Valencia, 25 – Chicago, Ill., Chilam Bilam
- Nina Vicente, 29 – Seattle, Wash., Spur Gastropub
- Ashley Villaluz, 25 – Seattle, Wash., Sous Chef
- Dakota Weiss, 35 – Los Angeles, Calif., 9:30 Restaurant and The Backyard
Who To Watch?
This may be considered a spoiler section – but it’s just my opinion so read on if you’d like …
Most of those names are probably news to people who don’t live in the particular markets where each respective chef comes from. That said, there are a few people who may have the inside track on the title. Here’s a bit more on some of the people that I know a little more about.
Edward Lee (@ChefEdwardLee)
Lee is the chef/owner of 610 Magnolia, one of Louisville’s most notable restaurants, and my guy to watch. He has been nominated three times for the James Beard Awards title of Best Chef: Southeast. That alone, puts him amongst the most decorated of all the contestants.
Lee has also been on Iron Chef and featured on Foodagraphy. Like former Top Chef participant Kevin Gillespie, Lee absolutely freaking loves pork (note the shirt). A few years back, he was the subject of a kick ass little video in which Lee put on a full fledged pig roast.
Keith Rhodes (@OneBadChef)
Keith Rhodes was a semi-finalist for the Best Chef: SE award, but didn’t make it any farther than that. He’s not quite as renowned as Lee, but certainly has a significant following around the Southeast.
Catch is a seafood heavy concept with a lot of heavy dishes that flow from the confines of South Mason-Dixon country. There’s a ton of information out there on him, just do a search for Keith Rhodes Chef.
I heard about Patterson during my recent trip out west. He cooks up vegetarian food at Seattle’s Sutra restaurant, a sub-30 seat restaurant up yonder. He’s a well traveled guy (with stints in Hawaii), but he’s the type of vegetarian chef that seems to believe in what he’s doing.
Naturally, his biggest asset may also be his biggest hindrance. When was the last time someone with a dietary specific cuisine was able to make serious head waves? I’m not really not expecting much from Patterson, but that’s more about the circumstances and less about his talent (which I hear is impactful).
Beverly Kim Clark
Apparently, she’s just going by Beverly Kim for the show. Regardless, she works at Aria in ChiTown. Clark has also worked at one of the Ritz-Carlton hotels and spent some time at Charlie Trotter’s. I know she also has had a hand in a few other Chicago projects. I think she moved to Cinncy for a bit, but I haven’t taken the time to verify that.
From my perspective, Lee is really the person to watch. There are a couple of other people that actually fit the role of “who to watch” but time is short right now so I’ve got to cram-SA out the door. More later y’all!