Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi on How ‘Top Chef’ Will Top Itself in Texas

They say that everything is bigger in Texas and that goes for the next and ninth season of Bravo’s hit foodie series “Top Chef.” Beginning November 2, host Padma Lakshmi and judges Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, Emeril Lagasse and Hugh Acheson will return to Bravo for “Top Chef: Texas” which will feature the largest group of contestants (29) in the series’ history. To add even more excitement to the Texas-sized season, the show will tour the Lone Star state with stops in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio and welcome a number of exciting guest judges to the table like Charlize Theron, Pee-Wee Herman (Paul Reubens) and Patti LaBelle.

In anticipation of the new season, Lakshmi and Colicchio spoke to journalists about the new batch of cheftestants, their favorite celebrity guest judges and how “Top Chef” will top itself this fall.

"It's really hard to compare [casts] because there is so much that happens within each season," Colicchio offered. "On a straight cooking level, the talent is as good as any season. I think they're going to match up well with any of our previous [casts]."

Preview The Biggest Season Ever!

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"I think these guys are very passionate like seasons past," chimed in Lakshmi. "But they also seem to me to have something personal to prove to themselves or an audience back home rather than just those of us who are standing in the kitchen."

So aside from the determined competitors, what else can we expect when the series starts up again next week?

"Our producers are working very hard to make each season the best," explained Lakshmi. "Texas is a big state and after having spent the time that we spent there this summer, I can tell you myself that Dallas is very different from Austin which is very different from San Antonio as is Houston. It was a choice that our producers made - not a negative choice to say one city isn't enough but a positive choice to say, 'Let's do something much more ambitious than we've done ever before. Let's move the show and take it on the road. Let's keep the contestants guessing. Let's have more contestants than we've ever had. We were coming off of an Emmy win. We're coming off of people loving and knowing the show and being very familiar with the format. In a sense, the people we have to top are ourselves."

Preview The Competition In The Premiere:

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When it comes to celebrity judges though, some personalities have topped others in the culinary department.

"I've actually cooked with Charlize [Theron]," teased Colicchio. "She is a serious, serious foodie and she loves to cook. […] Unfortunately we don't get to see them cook. I've heard Patti LaBelle can throw down."

Lakshmi looked to past seasons for her “Top Chef” guest judge nominations. “I remember Debi Mazar was really fun to have,” said Lakshmi. “Both Tom and I are also friendly with Jimmy Fallon who was on the show. He and his wife Nancy were also pretty serious foodies.

See Who’s Struggling In The First Challenge:

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But the real question is: How did Padma and Tom keep their waistlines from expanding with the super-sized season?

"It's really hard," revealed Lakshmi. "Both Tom and I box. I carry a jump rope in my suitcase and I run up and down flights of stairs. […] It's hard and you don't notice it because I have a really good wardrobe person but I actually do go up in dress size. I mean, this season, I was exceptionally thin. I didn't gain as much weight for other seasons but usually I do gain 10 to 15 pounds. […] I'm kind of the little puppy at the table. It's taken me quite a few seasons to learn to take smaller bites. […] I work out and eat really healthily when I finish work and what it takes me six weeks to gain, it unfortunately takes 10 or 12 weeks to lose."

Additionally, the foodie duo also touched on other subjects like their judging table intentions and who cooks Padma’s favorite ribs.

On Having Two Contestants From the Same Restaurant This Season:
Tom: “It never came up. They were both very different with different skill levels. Perhaps they decided to cast two people from the same restaurant to see if something would happen. Just like you’d cast brothers — to see if something would happen. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t want to give anything away.”

On What They Are Trying to Accomplish at the Judges’ Table:
Padma: “I personally am just trying to convey why I like or don’t like something to the person that made it. Whatever the criticism is, if it can be constructive and useful to that chef. When you’re in their shoes, they’re working their butts off and they’re tired. They really love what they do and they just want to be better at it. As a judge, I think it’s important to not only say that you don’t like something but to say why you don’t like it and why you could have liked it. […] We had a situation where we were doing a finale dinner in Napa and we had somebody participate in the dinner that was very belligerent and did not say why he did not like something or not. […] That doesn’t make for great TV anyway. It’s also not useful for someone pouring their heart and soul into feeding you.”

Tom: “Early on, we realized that the only way a viewer can experience our food is through conversation. We all decided that we have to have an honest conversation about food. We’re not mugging for the cameras. We’re not yelling and screaming at people. We’re having a serious conversation about the food they put in front of us. Good, bad, indifferent — we’re being honest.”

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