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Changes Are Coming to ‘Top Chef’ Season 21

Padma’s absence won’t be the only shakeup when the show heads to Wisconsin

a promotional image for Top Chef Season 21 showing Gail Simmons, Kristen Kish, and Tom Colicchio. all three of them are posed and smiling
Kristen Kish is the new host of Top Chef.
Stephanie Diani/Bravo

Top Chef returns next month for Season 21 — this time, in Wisconsin. Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons will be back too, but it’ll be the first Top Chef season (at least, since Season 2) without longtime host Padma Lakshmi, who announced her departure last summer. In her place will be former Top Chef winner Kristen Kish. But that’s not the only change.

As Entertainment Weekly announced, contestants will now be able to win money in every Quickfire Challenge. It seems, according to a sneak peek on YouTube, that immunity will no longer be given as a result of a Quickfire win, only after an Elimination Challenge. Notably, each episode will also now run for 75 minutes, as opposed to the current 42. How exactly this additional time will be spent remains to be seen.

While the show’s formula has clearly worked — Top Chef has been going for 18 years without major changes to its structure — it makes sense to use this opportunity of a new host to shake up the format a little and make it somewhat less predictable. That extra runtime offers the possibility of even more, or more involved, challenges. However, in the age of increasingly ad-filled streaming, the cynical read is that the added length could just open up more airtime for commercials and brand activations.

Top Chef is known for its ample product placement and indeed, the show has also announced via press release an influx of new brand sponsors. These include Holland America cruises, the Milwaukee-based Miller High Life, and the Wells Fargo Active Cash Credit Card, whose contributions will make some of these changes, like the additional money and prizes, possible. Already, the show has announced that challenges will feature Wisconsin staples like cheese and Door County cherries. And while most of the season is taking place in Milwaukee and Madison, it’ll end with a “high-seas finale” set on a cruise. There will also be appearances from W. Kamau Bell and The Bear’s Matty Matheson.

This season’s full list of contestants can be found below:

Top Chef season 21 premieres on March 20 on Bravo and will be available on Peacock the next day.