Top Chef: Texas premieres tonight! (videos)

Watch the preview videos of the biggest (and most controversial) season yet.

The San Antonio Express writes,

"The San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau piggybacked on the state's $400,000 campaign to attract the reality TV show to Texas by chipping in another $200,000 of hotel occupancy tax funds, according to paperwork acquired by the San Antonio Express-News through an open records request."

Is it a coincidence then that half of the season was filmed in San Antonio? Reps from Dallas and Austin say that they never paid a dime for the show to come to their cities and, as it turns out, only an episode or two were shot in those cities. (Read more about the show and all of the drama here on Austin 360.)

All drama aside, I'm totally psyched for both the hot, new chef eye candy...and the hot messes passing themselves off as chefs (see previews below).

Tune in to Bravo tonight at 10 pm EST/9 pm C, join our Twitter party during the show (Jeff: @JeffHouck, Katie: @culinarypirate), and listen to our podcast here tomorrow! Check out our fellow Top Chef fanatics, All Top Chef, for the latest news (and some laughs).

The Biggest Season Ever

Struggles in the Very First Challenge

Tonight, Bravo presents the season we Top Chef fans have been eagerly awaiting (and by "we", I mostly mean "me') — Top Chef: Texas!

It's fitting that season 9 takes place in Texas, where everything is supposedly "bigger", and this go-round will feature the largest number of chef'testants yet — a whopping 29! Luckily, it won't take 20-something weeks to get to the finale as the 29 will be whittled down in the beginning to reveal the 16 that will tour Texas in a culinary showdown. (The Top Chef site isn't even revealing any bios yet either, as I'm assuming they're waiting to only reveal those of the fortunate 16.) On top of all that, the chefs who didn't make the first cut will be competing in online webisodes on the TC site for a chance to get back on the show.

To further set itself apart from other seasons, this one isn't just sticking to one city. Notice how the season is titled as taking place in Texas? The chefs will compete in three cities across the state: San Antonio, Austin and Dallas (though Austin will be, by far the best stop on the tour — I'm not partial at all). Emeril Lagasse and Hugh ("The Hughnibrow") Acheson are the new faces to the judges' table and this season's celebrity guest judges to include the likes of Charlize Theron, Chef Cat Cora, Chef John Besh, Chef Tim Love, Patti LaBelle and — wait for it — Pee-wee Herman!

There has also been a lot of controversy around this season as it was revealed a few weeks ago that its production company, Magical Elves, approached the state asking for $400k to host the show there. The company asked the Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureaus to show them the proverbial money.

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