UPDATE: Top Chef has announced the eight returning chefs, as follows, with the pertinent Dallas chefs highlighted:
Sam Talbot (season 2: Los Angeles); Casey Thompson (season 3: Miami and season 8: all-stars); Amanda Baumgarten (season 7: Washington, D.C.); Brooke Williamson (season 10: Seattle); Sheldon Simeon (season 10: Seattle); John Tesar (season 10: Seattle); Shirley Chung (season 11: New Orleans); and Katsuji Tanabe (season 12: Boston). The show premieres December 1.
Cooking reality show Top Chef returns for its 14th season with a December 1 debut on Bravo TV, and it comes with an extra dash of intrigue: The cast is a mix of eight new chefs and eight returning chefs from past seasons who've never won.
Bravo has released the names of the eight newbies (none from Texas), but won't reveal the identities of the eight returning chefs until next week. That leaves us with one recourse: to handicap which Dallas chefs might turn up in that group.
The season takes place in Charleston, South Carolina, with host Padma Lakshmi, head judge Tom Colicchio, and Gail Simmons, who are joined by new judge Graham Elliot. A release describes it as "old blood versus new." Challenges include a shrimp-and-grits cook-off, a "biscuit blowout," and a holiday-themed Feast of Seven Fishes dinner.
Meanwhile, Dallas Top Chef alumni include John Tesar, Tiffany Derry, Tre Wilcox, Danyele McPherson, Casey Thompson, and Josh Valentine.
Let us move on to the process of elimination.
John Tesar. Dallas' most
hated loved chef made season 10 must-see TV. His skills surpassed his fellow contestants, and in terms of entertainment value, he was solid gold. His soliloquy on pickles earned its own YouTube (since removed). Many felt he was eliminated before his time.
In promising circumstantial evidence, Tesar parted ways this summer with Aphelia Group, making it a surprisingly Tesar-free summer. (Summer is when the season was in production.) Also, suspiciously, Tesar was unable to show up at CultureMap's Tastemaker awards when he won for Best Chef. You gotta have something serious going on to miss that.
It could just be that he's busy working on his new steak cookbook. But we'll optimistically hope otherwise.
Odds: 5 knives out of 5 on being a likely returning chef.
Casey Thompson. Although Thompson lives in California, she still has ties to the DFW area. In 2010, she helped launch Brownstone, a restaurant in Fort Worth's West 7th district, semi-remotely. So we'll call her "ours."
Thompson has no restaurant of her own right now. Coincidentally, she was just in Dallas to cook at the eighth annual Burgers & Burgundy fundraiser benefiting DIFFA. Which is, hmmm, Tesar's signature event. Where she set up in the exact same tent as Tesar. Double hmmm.
Odds: 4 knives out of 5.
Tiffany Derry. Derry was a Top Chef fan favorite, and her TV chops were sufficiently impressive that she scored slots on a number of reality-TV and competition-style shows such as Bar Rescue and Chopped Junior. But she's been working on another restaurant called Roots Southern Table, at Trinity Groves in Dallas. This doesn't rule her out entirely as a contestant, but she's been on two seasons already.
Odds: 2 knives out of 5.
Danyele McPherson. McPherson was a Top Chef short-timer, appearing on season 10 with Tesar. She's currently slammed, overseeing an empire of restaurants that include the original HG Sply Co. in Dallas, a second HG Sply Co. in Fort Worth, Remedy on Greenville Avenue, and a new restaurant in Rockwall called Standard Service. No way she has time for TV right now.
Odds: 1 knife out of 5.
Tre Wilcox. Chef Tre Wilcox, who appeared on season 3 along with Casey Thompson, is a busy man. He has six various Facebook pages going, a restaurant in Plano called Julia Pearl, a catering company, and an events space. It's possible he could have also been juggling taping this summer, but Wilcox was very much present in Texas.
Odds: 2 knives out of 5.
Josh Valentine. Former FT33 chef was also on season 10, where he tussled with Tesar. He currently lives in Oklahoma, and his Facebook page indicates a new baby happened this summer.
Odds: 0 knives out of 5.