Everything you need to know about the new season of Top Chef

Ever since season 17 of Bravo's hit show Top Chef concluded in the summer of 2020, fans have likely been coping with its absence by bingeing host Padma Lakshmi's Hulu show, Taste the Nation, or tuning into judge Tom Colicchio's instructional cooking videos on Instagram. Still, there's nothing quite like the intense, hunger-inducing, and at times scandalous drama that Top Chef delivers. Fortunately, the wait for the culinary competition show's return is nearly over, as The Daily Dish reports Top Chef will return for season 18 in 2021.

We'll get one spoiler out of the way right off the bat: The Daily Dish says the new season of Top Chef takes place in Portland, Oregon — a spot that was named Best Food City in America in 2019 by WalletHub. We're sure Portland will offer plenty of fresh inspiration this season, but even apart from the location, the show is set to look quite a bit different this time around. As you might expect, the huge dinner parties and large outdoor gatherings the chefs are usually tasked with won't be possible in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, exactly how will the cheftestants be put to the test this year? It turns out the producers have incorporated an exciting new twist to keep things safe yet entertaining as ever.

Top Chef's new challenges will feature some familiar faces

In order to create season 18 of Top Chef in the midst of the pandemic, the show has taken a new approach. Judge Gail Simmons told CNBC, "We made our challenges much smaller this year. Where we used to have 200-person dinners or walk-around tasting events that our chefs would cook for, we now do dinners with a quarantined group of ourselves and a group of Top Chef alumni who came out to quarantine with us." Who might those alumni be? The Daily Dish says the list will include big names like Richard Blais, Brooke Williamson, Edward Lee, Kwame Onwuachi, and last season's winner Melissa King, just to name a few. We're sensing some harsh criticism on the horizon — after all, who better to judge Top Chef contestants than those who've been there before, right?

Along with the new challenge format, Top Chef put some strict guidelines in place for filming. Simmons told CNBC, "We were all being tested every 72 hours [and] obviously everyone wore masks except for the few of us on camera. We also did as much outside as we could." The Top Chef judge added, "We did not pretend that the pandemic wasn't happening," noting that when the show airs, viewers will hear stories of how COVID-19 has impacted the participants' restaurants and businesses. Though you may have a few reasons to suspect that Top Chef is totally fake, it sounds like season 18 is going to be realer than ever.