Welcome back, and thanks for joining us for Season 9 of Top Chef. While for the most part, the season is structured as it has been in the past, there are two key ways in which our ninth season is a season of firsts.
The first "first" is that this is the first time that we are traveling to three cities instead of one. This season’s backdrop is the State of Texas, rather than just one city in it, and, as such, we’re able to feature San Antonio, Dallas, and Austin (a city that speaks to my guitar-lovin’ soul.) I’d like to say more about all the sights we took in while shooting this season, but the season was filmed in July and it was at least 110 degrees every single day we were there. I’m not exaggerating -- ask the residents of the cities we were in, and they’ll confirm my report. Unfortunately, the relentlessly high heat drove us indoors, where we remained for the bulk of the time we were in Texas. I’d have liked to have been able to see and do more than we managed while there. But, as in seasons past, our challenges do highlight aspects of the locations in which they’re set, so you will still get to experience Texas over the course of the season to come.
Our second "first" is that this is the first time the contestants had to cook their way into the season by cooking for the judges. In seasons past, contestants were selected based on audition videotapes they provided, along with their resumes. At some point there may have been some cooking for producers, but it was minimal and never for the judges. This season’s contestants, however, were thrown a curveball. As you saw, the contestants arrived believing that they were “in”…only to discover that they weren’t, and that almost half of them would be “out” before they’d even unpacked. The heat was applied from the moment they arrived, with no “let’s get to know you” period first. This set the tone right away that this is a serious competition. After the shock wore off, some of the chefs rose to the challenge and presented very good food. Others flamed out right away, some buckling under the unexpected pressure, others showing skills that just didn't measure up to those of their competitors. I won’t even address the young guy who couldn’t even butcher a simple piece of meat. As of the end of the first episode, 11 of the 16 slots have been filled, with only five still up for grabs and a whole third team still to cook before we turn back to those chefs on the bubble. Who knows – we might not even get to the chefs on the bubble. We’ll see next week…A word about Emeril. Most people know him from Food TV, but remember that Emeril is a serious chef who has run restaurants for a long time. His presence as a judge this season adds years of kitchen experience to our judging team, and it’s great to have him with us.
And one more word to those of you who are local and have been writing in, asking how to get into Restaurant Wars. Please don’t shoot the messenger, Texans, but as I mentioned above, we shot the whole season (except for the finale) in July. I’m sorry to say that the Restaurant Wars episode has already been filmed, so there's no point in writing to be a diner in that episode. But please do write with your comments as you watch the season -- we look forward to hearing from you.