They finally did it.
The Top Chef brain trust came to their senses after nearly two decades of competition, bringing the long-running cooking show to Houston for season 19.
Superfans may recall that season 9 was dubiously named "Top Chef: Texas," despite contestants missing Houston completely, instead competing in San Antonio, Dallas and Austin.
It's about time Houston is getting its due. After all, it's only the state's largest city and the country's fourth most populous—a point that Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi makes in the first five minutes of the first episode. We know, Top Chef. You played yourself.
Thankfully, Houstonians are generally a forgiving bunch used to quietly enjoying the amazing bounty and creativity our diverse city affords, and we're just glad the Top Chef crew and the rest of the U.S. is finally getting a taste of all the Bayou City has to offer.
If the first episode is any indication, there will be plenty to enjoy this season.
The first scene opens with hometown heavy hitter and season 18 finalist chef Dawn Burrell standing next to Lakshmi, along with a slick "Houston" background reminiscent of the iconic "Be Someone" graffiti.
Burrell serves as the guest judge for the season's inaugural Quickfire challenge, the first of many roadblocks the 15 "cheftestants" will face in contention for the Top Chef title and a cool $250,000 grand prize for the winner.
Among those 15 chefs is Houstonian Evelyn Garcia, a Mexican-Salvadorean chef known for her company Kin, which specializes in Southeast Asian flavors available via pop-ups, catering and a line of proprietary spices and condiments.
Garcia is quickly introduced to the audience as not only a Houston representative but a savvy strategist who recognizes that the Quickfire will be a dreaded team challenge, which forces the chefs, who don't know their fellow contestants yet, to rely on each other for a win.
Five teams of three compete in a relay-style race with a signature Top Chef twist: No one can communicate while they cook, which opens the door to good-for-television drama as chefs observe their teammates and try not to melt down in the process.
The first challenge of the season not only introduces us to some of the chefs' personalities, cooking styles, and accolades—James Beard awards! Michelin stars!—but also teaches us that in Top Chef World, everyone is on an equal playing field.
Case in point: Sure, chef Luke Kolpin worked at the acclaimed, supposed "world's best restaurant" Noma in Copenhagen for eight years, but none of that matters when he fails to put any food on the plate in the allotted time .
Kolpin aside, the chefs make it through the Quickfire relatively unscathed, setting the stage for the true nailbiter: the Elimination challenge.
New Jersey's Leia Gaccione suffered the unfortunate fate of first chef out for her overstuffed, sinewy summer roll. Robert Hernandez's braised pot roast with potato gnocchi positioned the San Francisco chef as the one to beat.
But in our eyes, Houston came out on top.
In the last challenge, after a shop at Whole Foods Market (in what appears to be the Post Oak location), the chefs head to Cafe Annie, where they serve their food to a table filled with a veritable who's who of Houston chefs, who discuss the merits and weak points of each dish with the Top Chef judges.
The breadth and diversity of the city’s cuisine was on display as much as the contestant's food. Watching Robert Del Grande of Cafe Annie, Trong Nguyen of Crawfish & Noodles, Hugo Ortega of Hugo's, Monica Pope of Sparrow, Chris Shepherd of Underbelly Hospitality, Kiran Verma of Kiran's, and Dawn Burrell and Chris Williams of Lucille's discuss the meal was a refreshing and exciting way to kick off the season.
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