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'Top Chef' Judges: Why We Love N'awlins

Padma explains why NOLA is better than other cities—even New York.

Top Chef is back and ready to heat up New Orleans. The cooking competition is kicking off its 11th season tomorrow night at 10/9c and the show's judging panel could not be more pleased with the choice of city.

Says head judge Tom Colicchio, "People love food here. It's like everybody's sort of sport." While Emeril Lagasse, as can be expected, kicks it up a notch, saying, "I kid with people and tell them that there are 49 states—and then there's Louisiana."

PHOTOS: See the Judges' First Images from #NOLA

But it's host Padma Lakshmi who has the highest words of praise for NOLA, saying, "I'd say out of any city, even New York, it's the only city in the United States that truly has its own micro-culture of food" before promising that the entire judging panel is playing things a little looser and a little more happy-go-lucky this season.

And why wouldn't they be considering the notoriously vibrant location, home of Creole cooking, jazz, Mardi Gras and now, what Emeril promises, are 19 "incredibly talented chefs."

"It's like you go down the first hill of the roller coaster ride and you think, 'Woo, okay. That was great, that was really exciting,'' says Emeril. "And all of a sudden you're climbing up a hill again and it's a bigger drop...That's sort of what being a part of Top Chef is."

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