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Portland-bound: 'Top Chef' returns with a supersized episode

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Michelle Rose / TV Media
Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio in "Top Chef"

Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio in "Top Chef"

Knowing the pandemic shutdown put Hollywood on hold in 2020, we've come to expect the delayed starts and postponed premieres of some of our favorite shows. Luckily, "Top Chef" isn't one of them. The Bravo series is back with a supersized premiere on Thursday, April 1, around the same time it debuted last year.

The competition is staying put on the West Coast, but the locale is shifting from Los Angeles, California, in Season 17 to picturesque Portland, Oregon, for Season 18. The City of Roses had developed a national reputation as a foodie's dream prior to the pandemic, which hit the food scene hard. This season of "Top Chef" will hopefully be a boon for local restaurants; in the words of Travel Portland President and CEO Jeff Miller, "the show will serve as a window into what Portland has to offer when viewers are ready to travel again."

The region and its flavors have inspired new challenges that include crabbing on the coast in honor of culinary icon/native Oregonian James Beard, and a surf and turf elimination challenge honoring the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. There will also be visits to famous food locations, such as the Tillamook Creamery and Hood River Fruit Loop.

But the big twist is reserved for this season's Restaurant Wars challenge: teams will have to execute a micro-restaurant concept featuring a seven-course tasting menu.

Season 18 "cheftestants" include: Brittanny Anderson of Richmond, Virginia; Avishar Barua of Columbus, Ohio; Dawn Burrell of Houston, Texas; Gabe Erales of Austin, Texas; Nelson German of Oakland, California; Byron Gomez of Aspen, Colorado; Sasha Grumman of Houston, Texas; Roscoe Hall of Birmingham, Alabama; Kiki Louya of Detroit, Michigan; Maria Mazon of Tucson, Arizona; Shota Nakajima of Seattle, Washington; Jamie Tran of Las Vegas, Nevada; Chris Viaud of Milford, New Hampshire; and two Portlanders, Sara Hauman and Gabriel Pascuzzi.

Like other cooking competitions, "Top Chef" had to film under strict COVID-19 safety protocols that necessitated changes to the judging and dining panel. Instead of flying in industry leaders and stars, host Padma Lakshmi and judges Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons will be joined instead by a rotating panel of "Top Chef" alumnae. Some non-"Top Chef" celebrities will also appear, including "Portlandia" stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein.

Season 18 of "Top Chef" premieres on Thursday, April 1, on Bravo while its digital companion series, "Last Chance Kitchen" returns on April 8.