Recap: The 'Top Chef' Season 14 Premiere

The beloved cooking show is back, and the competition is already heating up

It's the most wonderful time of the year. We're speaking, of course, about the season 14 premiere of Top Chef. Sixteen contestants are ready to try their hand at one of the toughest television cooking competitions around, and we couldn't be more excited to see what happens.

The season kicks off with a bang, and tonight's premiere episode isn't one to be missed. Here are eight important things to look out for as you watch (and try not to fall off the edge of your seat).

① First things first: Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio and new judge Graham Elliot are looking cute as ever. As always, they're dishing out critiques, intimidating contestants and making dreams come true.

② This season takes place in Charleston and stars eight fresh, new chefs and eight returning contestants who have competed on (and lost) Top Chef before. And, in true TC fashion, the two groups don't know about each other until the competition begins. Cue a lot of "I'm not afraid of them" and "I didn't come here to lose."

③ This season packs in some serious talent. Think James Beard nominees, Food and Wine Best New Chefs and chef/owners who have worked under Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Michael Mina, Andrew Carmellini and others.

④ Season 12's Katsuji Tanabe is back, and we are thrilled. He says he's brought a bow tie for every day of the competition and asks with a thick accent, "Am I getting subtitles on Top Chef this year or . . . not?"

⑤ One adorable new contestant named Jim Smith is a self-proclaimed "giant Buffy the Vampire Slayer nerd," which some of us can certainly relate to. (Me. It's me.)

⑥ Sam Talbot from season two has returned and during his time away was voted one of People's Sexiest Men Alive. No one's mad about it.

⑦ The veteran contestants secretly watch the new contestants take part in their first Quickfire Challenge on a screen in another room, and their support for them is truly heartwarming. Sure, they'll spend the rest of the season fighting to the death, but in these early moments, they're cheering on the newbies and imploring them to "get something on the plate!"

⑧ As always, the heat is on. The premiere immediately drops all 16 contestants into their first Sudden Death Quickfire, and—just like that—our first eager chef has to pack their knives and go. 

No surprises here: It's gearing up to be a heart-pounding, sweat-inducing season of competition.