The latest season of Bravo's Top Chef kicked off Wednesday with Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, and Co. taking the cooking competition to New Orleans. If the premiere is any indication, there will be Big Easy-gimmicks galore: Emeril Lagasse bearing beignets? Check. Mardi Gras beads? Check. Scenes from a swamp? Alligators? Check and check. In fact, the first challenge involves the contestants cooking alligator — or turtle or frog — in a swamp and being awarded Mardi Gras beads!
The biggest surprise in Episode 1? These folks have known they are doing a cooking show in New Orleans and didn't practice cooking alligator, turtle, or frog before they went.
But now that you've seen the first episode, who should you bet on to win that $125,000 grand prize furnished by Healthy Choice, a feature in Food & Wine Magazine, a showcase at the annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, and the title, Top Chef?
Here's a guide to the real Hunger Games:
First-Round Draft Picks
It's hard to tell after one show, but these seem to be the ones to beat. Do what you can to get one of the top two picks in your draft, then listen to your fellow fantasy players groan, "That's who I was going to pick!" when you take them.
OK, you didn't get Justin or Nina. But, while anyone on Top Chef can screw up and have to pack their knives and go, these next six (based on their résumés or an impressive first outing) are folks you want in your kitchen.
Wait, Who Are These Guys?
Do you recognize any of these folks? Some only got a single cutaway shot or a couple lines, but could end up being sleeper picks. If you're picking ninth or later and have to take one of them, read the below so if they win you can say, "I knew they would win when in the first episode they..." Your friends will bow to your awesomeness.
Some made really dumb mistakes, some are just too annoying to root for, and some just seem in way over their heads. Don't draft them, but be sure to trash talk your friends when they draft them.
Not Quite Bad Enough or Good Enough For Any of the Above Categories
He's kind of a wild card. He might win a few early quickfires, or could be going home next week.
Contestant portraits: Justin Stephens/Bravo