Top Chef Exclusive: All Stars Get Fired-Up

At first glance, the green room on the New York City set of Top Chef looks more like Romper Room. Judge Tom Colicchio, sporting casual jeans and a baseball cap, strolls in with his 1-year-old son, Luka. They're on hand to watch the taping of a Quickfire Challenge featuring cookies and a uniquely fuzzy panel of judges — Elmo, Telly and, of course, Cookie Monster.

"Normally on my day off, you can't drag me on the set," Colicchio laughs. "But this is special."

"Special" sums up the moment for Top Chef, the addictive cooking contest that nabbed its first Emmy for Outstanding Reality Competition Program this summer and is now poised to launch its red-hot eighth season, Top Chef All-Stars (premiering Wednesday, December 1 at 10/9c on Bravo). "This is going to be our best season yet," says host Padma Lakshmi. It certainly has all the ingredients, with a cast of 18 memorable ex-cheftestants.

"We put together our fantasy list of who would be in the cast," says exec producer Andy Cohen. "This is 95 percent of that original list."

These ex-contenders had plenty of incentive to return, as none emerged victorious in their original seasons. "These people are looking for retribution," Cohen says. "Everybody has a compelling reason for being there."

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