The first few episodes of any reality competition are tough. Lots of new people (17!), lots of names to learn, personality types to connect to those names, which is why it's often easier not to bother until some get weeded out. Still, it's usually a pretty good bet that if you didn't realize they were on the show by episode three, they're probably not going to be winning (exception that proves the rule: Hosea. I really don't think he joined til like episode 5).
Even more so than Project Runway, Top Chef's premiere is important for its uncanny ability to forecast the eventual winner. In three out of five seasons, the first challenge winner went on to become Top Chef. In the other two cases, the winners were the frontrunners all the way til their eliminations. So automatically Kevin's one to watch.
Who else do I remember come episode's end? There's Jennifer, the in-it-to-win-it go-getter that won the quick fire and seemed like she was getting the big win as well. There's the brothers, whose generally good marks make them likely to go further than the first-ever competing couple a few years back. And there's Mike, who seems determined to be the asshole of the season (or, rather, the producers seem determined to cast him as the asshole of the season. Wait, they didn't make him say that women can't compete with men. Back to what I first said).
As for the Vegas setting, it so far hasn't made its mark quite the way that past locations have (though what's the Vegas equivalent of Chicago deep dish pizza and New York hot dogs?), and strippers and gambling can only go so far. But it did allow Wolfgang Puck to show up as one of the more entertaining guest judges in recent memory. I've definitely been missing the celebrity chef judges on Masters (as much as I love Zooey and NPH).
So while it may have served the show better to eliminate two upfront like last season than to keep the giant cast going, tonight's premiere still made for a promising start. Enough of the cheftestants seem talented that we should end up with a better group of finalists than last season, when nobody quite knew who to root for. And regardless of how much bad seitan they showed, I'm still gonna need a snack after watching all that food.