Chicago-set fourth season of Top Chef debuts tonight

Top Chef 4 debuts tonight on Bravo at 10 p.m. ET with a 75-minute episode. After spending its third season in Miami, the series moves to Chicago, where 16 chefs–the biggest cast so far–will compete.

Judge Ted Allen tells TV Guide that the competition is, as always, impossibly difficult, and calls the producers “evil” and “sadistic.” The chefs, he says, “don’t get big budgets and they don’t get enough time; if you could give them enough time to plan out a menu, the way they would in real life, more of them would cook successful dishes. We’re saying to them, ‘OK, you have 15 minutes to figure out what to do.'”

He adds that the environment plays a big role. “I don’t know if fans are truly aware of how hard it is: All these contestants give up their cell phones, their iPods, they can’t watch TV, they can’t read books, they can’t call their mommies. All they have is the people they’re trying to defeat — and maybe some nice bottles of wine every once in a while. You’re stuck in this pressure cooker with these people who you may or may not like. For six weeks! And on top of that, you have these evil, sadistic producers coming up with the hardest possible challenges they can think of,” he said.

Top Chef 4 [Bravo]
Top Chef’s Ted Allen Previews This Season’s Big City and Bigger Personalities [TV Guide]