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'Top Chef: Texas': Swift punishment -- but also a second chance

November 1, 2011 |  7:00 am

Top Chef: Texas Tom Colicchio been studying Gov. Rick Perry?

The new season of “Top Chef: Texas” premieres Wednesday on Bravo, and based on the opening episode in the Emmy-winning cooking competition, Colicchio and his fellow judges seem to have a fondness for Perry and his state’s tough stance on final justice. While the “Top Chef” adjudicators aren’t sending any cooks off to death row, they are dispatching several lacking contestants remarkably and unapologetically swiftly, including Colicchio’s axing of one chef in the first episode before he even turned on his stove.

If the judging in the premiere hour seems unduly speedy, it’s a consequence of this season’s opening conceit, where 29 chefs initially fight for the final 16 spots in the season’s real contest (that first wave of weeding continues next week). In another new twist for the show, now in its ninth season, one of the chefs eliminated from the shortlisted bunch of 16 will have a chance to cook himself or herself back into the competition well after being booted. Commuting the sentence, in other words.

“It addresses the person whom the viewer thinks got a raw deal, or maybe they were more talented and they were kicked off too soon,” Colicchio said in a conference call about the on- time chance at redemption, where Colicchio will be the sole judge in an episode shown only on the Internet. The move was partially inspired by the elimination of Tre Wilcox last year, after he made several blunders in “Top Chef’s” restaurant wars episode.

“Everybody thought that we should have given him a break because he had competed and done well earlier. And so what it does though, it gives that person the opportunity to get back in," Colicchio said.

Host Padma Lakshmi and Colicchio said the idea of expanding the show’s initial contestant pool was meant to let people cook their way onto the show, rather than making the cut based on their resume and audition. “I never thought of it as a mass killing,” Lakshmi said of the first, drastic cut. Added Colicchio: “There were some people who we were led to believe would have been great contestants, really strong cooks, and they weren’t good at all.”

As for the season’s more intriguing storylines, audiences could have a strong rooting interest in North Carolina’s Keith Rhodes, who taught himself how to cook while in prison on a narcotics charge, and Richie Farina and Chris Jones, who work alongside each other in Chicago’s Moto restaurant.

For people who have grown weary of the contestants’ ever-expanding body art, two women — Los Angeles’ Dakota Weiss (NineThirty restaurant) and Georgia’s Whitney Otawka — definitively prove that tattoos are not the sole domain of male chefs. There's more ink on the two women than in a barrel of squid.

“We’re coming off an Emmy win; we’re coming off of people knowing and loving the show and being very familiar with the format,” Lakshmi said of keeping "Top Chef" interesting. “We have to top ourselves. I think it’s a challenge we face every day in doing the show, just to make it better.”

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'Top Chef Masters' ups the spice for L.A.'s Mary Sue Milliken and John Rivera Sedlar

-- John Horn

Photo:  Gail Simmons, Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio in "Top Chef: Texas." Credit: Scott McDermott/Bravo

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