A very sweet 16: The contenders line up on "Top Chef: Texas" (Virginia Sherwood/Bravo)To prove the old "everything's bigger in Texas" adage, "Top Chef: Texas" started with 29 chefs and whittled them down to the Top 16 over the course of two episodes. But this season has a wild-card element in the form of the online "Last Chance Kitchen" (the show's twist on "Survivor's" Redemption Island), which means a 17th chef has a shot at re-entering the competition. So which member of this supersized cast has the best odds of winning it all? We've got some early predictions.
First Impression: Seems like a cool guy who studied to be a veterinarian and then traveled around the world cooking, but he made messy mushrooms, got a second chance, and still didn't quite make the cut.
Odds of Winning: 1,000 to 1. Don't count him out yet, because he's the first winner of "Last Chance Kitchen," but in order to get into the finals, he'll have to beat every single person who gets eliminated. Those are some long odds.
First Impression: She's a wife and a mother and seems more than a little bit nervous. She keeps a note in her pocket that says "I Can. I Must. I Will." And her self-motivation, paired with some delicious-looking Korean food, earned her a spot in the Top 16.
Odds of Winning: 14 to 1. She looks like she might crack at some point, but she bravely took a chance in cooking with octopus (even though she'd never really used it before) and Tom admired her craziness.
First Impression: He's good at butchering, which as we learned in the premiere is a valuable skill that not everyone has. But he's got a major ego, calling himself a culinary artist in the least ironic way possible.
Odds of Winning: 3 to 1. He seems like a jerk and compared himself to Michael Voltaggio, but he's got skills and Mr. Voltaggio won this show after all, so if he lives up to his own hype, he could go far.
First Impression: He likes to have some fun, making savory foods look like sweets, and he can clearly cook. What we're having a hard time with is his unfortunate hairstyle and the fact that he made a corny "Bam!" joke when he saw Emeril.
Odds of Winning: 20 to 1. Seems competent, but maybe a little goofy for this show... especially when it gets down to the later rounds.
First Impression: He's definitely got a resume to be proud of. He's a protégé of Rick Bayliss, opened up his own restaurant at age 23... but he's got the cocky attitude to go with it. His family may have raised rabbits (which he turned into dinner), but his "Booyah, beyotch" when he got his chef coat soured us on him.
Odds of Winning: 8 to 1. With our luck, he'll win this thing. Let's just hope Tom takes him down a peg or two along the way.
First Impression: She seems reluctant to toot her own horn. While everyone else was rattling off their accolades, she just stated where she worked and worried about the tough competition. Still, she's clearly competent and used sweet flavors with her rabbit to impress the judges.
Odds of Winning: 25 to 1. Unless she gets a jolt of confidence, she'll probably falter somewhere along the way.
First Impression: He's self-taught and was a 2011 finalist for the James Beard Best Chef Award Southeast. His first dish wasn't cooked enough, but he stepped it up in the second round. He chopped off part of his finger and didn't let that stop him. He just threw a glove on, cooked with one hand and kept going without complaint.
Odds of Winning: 9 to 1. He's got passion, and that could go a long way. To not stop cooking while a medic examined him? And to only be concerned about where the blood spattered? Either he's Dexter or the next Top Chef.
First Impression: She says she's in between chef jobs, but does have a strong culinary background. She got sent to the bubble because she let that idiot Tyler Stone screw up her tenderloin, but she won the last spot in the Top 16 -- just barely.
Odds of Winning: 30 to 1. She seems not to do so well under stress, and she's way too trusting of other people. Unless being on the bubble taught her some basic reality-show lessons, she's not long for this competition.
First Impression: She wants to prove that she can take down chefs that are half her age, and that's a goal we can get behind. She does classical cooking, which means wonderful concoctions of baby back ribs and grits. Sounds good to us.
Odds of Winning: 5 to 1. She actually tasted her grits, realized they were too salty, and was competent enough to fix it. Noticing mistakes and doing something about it? That's definitely a valuable skill on this show.
First Impression: She works at a Michelle Bernstein restaurant, which you'd think would give her confidence, but she runs and hides when she sees that Tom is coming to talk to her. Some might consider that focused, but avoiding the man who will advise you all season is just bad planning. Still, she made some osso bucco that Tom loved, even though he didn't speak to her until judges' table.
Odds of Winning: 16 to 1. She's a really strong chef and extremely focused, but maybe too focused to deal with the twists and turns that this show doles out.
First Impression: He went to jail for dealing drugs, and he learned there that his true passion was being a seafood chef. He made us chuckle by saying he was too big to pass out from nerves, so we're already charmed by this Southern guy.
Odds of Winning: 14 to 1. He's charming, and while he specializes in seafood, he was able to deftly handle the task of cooking rabbit. We're just curious to find out what other tricks he might have up his sleeve.
First Impression: She was nominated for Rising Star Chef 2010 and worked with Joel Robuchon. Extremely competent, cool, and collected, she made a braised pork shoulder in ravioli for her first dish.
Odds of Winning: 4 to 1. She's one to watch, as she's focused but not in the stressed-out way someone like Lindsay is. Plus, she's got some serious culinary chops.
First Impression: He was nominated for a Rising Star Chef award and, more impressive (to us, at least), he owns three street-food trucks. His fish dish was voted the favorite of his judging group, so he's off to a strong start.
Odds of Winning: 6 to 1. He's a Texas local, so that might give him an advantage, and the fact that he makes simple but extremely well-prepared food might also propel him to the top.
First Impression: He currently works under Chris Jones, but tackled the hard ingredient of pig ears with ease. And he seems like he's got a lot to prove.
Odds of Winning: 35 to 1. We really like him and want to see the underdog sous-chef take down all the big, bad executive chefs, but he's overly analytical and that neurosis could be a hindrance in the future. Also, having Chris around to help him judge his salty palate might be a help, but what happens if Chris gets kicked out before him?
First Impression: Her fellow chefs are in awe that she's heading one of the best Italian restaurants in the country. And she was trained by "Top Chef Masters" contestant Tony Mantuano, who sent her to Italy to hone her craft. She sailed through her first challenge with the pig skin by making delectable-looking ravioli.
Odds of Winning: 12 to 1. We like her, we really like her. So that probably means she's doomed. Hopefully she can come out and do more than Italian cuisine -- not that we take issue with everything being made into a ravioli, but the judges might tire of it.
First Impression: He really likes umlauts (a bad habit that we refuse to indulge). He's worked in Denmark, Bangkok, and New York, and he's friends with Heather, as he worked as her sous-chef for years. He thinks his diversity will help him, and the judges said he had the best rabbit of the day... so he may not be wrong.
Odds of Winning: 7 to 1. He's kind of an odd duck, but he can surely cook. He and his umlaut stand a good chance of making it to the final three.
First Impression: We're a little suspicious of her, mostly because Hugh Acheson (who is one of the new judges this season) is her mentor. He didn't judge her in the premiere round, but we're still a bit skeptical. Even though her rabbit sugo looked gorgeous, and it was a bit cute that she wanted to hug the judges but was worried about being weird.
Odds of Winning: 10 to 1. Since Hugh doesn't seem the type to dole out compliments when they aren't deserved, he may be extra hard on her. What do we know? So long as she keeps making good dishes and keeps her hugs confined to her fellow contestants, she'll do fine.
"Top Chef: Texas" airs Wednesdays at 10pm on Bravo.
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