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What to Watch for During ‘Top Chef’ Season 15

The judges and competitors are heading to Colorado

From left: Top Chef judges Graham Elliot, Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, and Gail Simmons. Paul Trantow/Bravo

Top Chef, Bravo’s long-running, Emmy-winning culinary competition, returns to the airwaves this evening. Season 15 takes Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, Graham Elliot, and all 15 cheftestepants to the Rocky Mountain State of Colorado, where there should be plenty of drama and snide comments along with the cooking. What can viewers expect from this forthcoming battle for kitchen supremacy? Here are six storylines to watch.

Top Chef may have a John Besh problem.

The New Orleans celebrity chef has been a regular guest judge on Top Chef over the years. In October, a New Orleans Times-Picayune investigative report levied major sexual harassment allegations against Besh from 25 current or former employees of his restaurant group. He has resigned from the company, but Top Chef: Colorado might still include one cooking challenge featuring the disgraced restaurateur. Shortly after the Times-Picayune’s report was published, Bravo said it was “evaluating” the episode in question. There has been no public comment on the subject since.

On Twitter, Colicchio expressed support for the idea of scrapping the episode and replacing it with a roundtable discussion on sexual harassment in the restaurant industry. He has also addressed the topic in “an open letter to (male) chefs,” saying “we need to do more than pay lip service to fixing this.”

Colorado’s diverse environment will be heavily featured.

In a recent interview with Austin Monthly, Simmons shared some hints regarding the upcoming season. It seems nature will play a role in Top Chef challenges like never before. “This is the first place we’ve gone to where I think the most significant, notable, characteristic for the location is this enormous, vast beauty,” Simmons said. “We shot on the California coast, which was fantastic, we’ve shot in the Bahamas and Hawaii twice, but this is an entire season in the Rocky Mountains, and I think that’s really going to be a huge piece of the show. We shoot an episode at 10,000 feet above sea level, and we shoot in this incredible mountain ranges with the chefs and it allows us to do a lot with the contestants that we’ve never done.”

Apparently the high altitude caused difficulties for the judges as well. “For me, filming was a challenge, just to digest all the food because I had terrible altitude sickness,” Lakshmi recently told Entertainment Weekly. “I’d been there before, I’d been to the Food & Wine festival, I’d been to Aspen several times, but I’d never been there with the show for that long.”

An outdoor scene from Top Chef: Colorado Paul Trantow/Bravo

Will the chefs cook with weed?

As you may have herd, recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado (as well as a few other states). In the last few years, the marijuana edibles industry has grown up from half-baked recipes to a legitimate culinary movement. Former Top Chef winners and famous cooks such as Mario Batali have embraced the trend, which has become so mainstream that there are now pumpkin spice-flavored edibles. But, despite the groovy progress, the current administration in Washington, D.C., still views weed as a dangerous drug. It remains to be seen if Bravo and Top Chef risk drawing the ire of Attorney General Jeff Sessions by airing a marijuana challenge.

Bull testicles will be on the menu.

Rocky Mountain oysters are not oysters at all, and they’ll be served in at least one challenge this season. Judging the reactions in the Top Chef: Colorado trailer, this may be a terrifying proposition for some of the contestants.

The cheftestepants to watch.

Top Chef: Colorado’s casting call produced a competition with a distinct West Coast vibe: Seven of the 15 competitors are from the state of California. Of those, Tanya Holland, owner of Oakland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen, boasts the most impressive credentials. Holland, who received her culinary education in France, is working on two new outposts for her restaurant, has published a couple of cookbooks, and has extensive television experience on shows such as Food Network’s Melting Pot. Will Holland’s strong resume give her an advantage over her rivals?

Anyone who wants to support the local talent will be cheering for Brother Luck, who runs Four by Brother Luck in Colorado Springs, and Carrie Baird, executive chef of Bar Dough in Denver and the reader’s choice pick for Eater Denver’s chef of the year in 2017.

The cast of competitors may be a little more friendly this time around.

In previous seasons, some Top Chef participants have emerged as fan favorites, while others have been seen as loathsome villains. This installment might be different.

“They’ve bonded very quickly,” Colicchio told ColoradoSprings.com “You can see that in the way they talk to each other. I did a walk-through yesterday, and you can see them all working together really well. I think that makes for a better season. I don’t think you need a villain; I think that’s old reality TV. People want to see them working together. That may be a commentary on how things are right now. I think people want to see other people come together and get things done.”

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