Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi

Time to break out the big knives! Bravo tells TV Guide Magazine exclusively that the upcoming eighth season of Top Chef will serve up an all-star cast. Eighteen familiar faces — all of them runners-up from previous seasons — are returning hungry for a shot at redemption in the culinary capital of the world: New York City.

Tune in tonight, Sept. 22, for the Top Chef DC reunion special (9/8c, Bravo), when host Andy Cohen will divulge the entire cast, including several fan faves. Then come back to tvguide.com/magazine immediately afterwards for an exclusive sneak peek at the first cast photo.

Want more Top Chef dish? Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!

"Because we know them, it's very hard to criticize them," head judge Tom Colicchio admits of the all-star lineup. "The good part is, it's consistently better food." Another bonus: Joining Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi as a regular judge this season will be the always-entertaining Anthony Bourdain, who'll alternate with Gail Simmons.

Stay glued to TV Guide Magazine for exclusive coverage of Top Chef All-Stars, including behind-the scenes access to two of the season's hottest challenges. Jimmy Fallon recently celebrated his 35th birthday at Manhattan's Colicchio & Sons, where the chef-testants prepared some of his favorite dishes. The dinner party included the funnyman and his family as well as Late Night announcer Steve Higgins and head writer A.D. Miles and judges Colicchio, Simmons and Lakshmi. "It was the most fun I've ever had eating such delicious food," raves Lakshmi. "The food was great, and the company was even better."

The guest of honor returns the compliment: "I'm a huge fan of the show," says Fallon, who emceed this year's Emmys, where Top Chef took home its first trophy for best reality competition. "I said, 'I can get you the Emmy if you put me on the show,'" he jokes.

Later in the season, a Quickfire features a trio of lovable guest judges — Sesame Street's Cookie Monster, Telly and Elmo. "To have the Muppets here and to work with them is great," says Colicchio, who showed up on his day off to watch the taping. "It's iconic."

The furry foodies were equally impressed by the chefs, whom Cookie Monster calls "the real deal." "They're really funny!" gushes Elmo, while Telly adds, "I like watching them run around like crazy people. With sharp objects."

Top Chef All-Stars premieres Wednesday, Dec. 1 at 10/9c on Bravo. Are you fired up for All-Stars?

Reporing by Elise Juska and Bruce Fretts

Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!