Watch Top Chef, then be on it

Top Chef withstood the heat, and will remain in the kitchen. Bravo has ordered a second season of the reality cooking competition.

The first season has been a ratings winner for the network, with an average 1.3 million viewers tuning in. The high ratings have prompted the network to greenlight another season of the show, starting with a new search for contestants in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Las Vegas.

Bravo is also extending the May 17 finale to two hours. The finale takes place in Las Vegas, and will feature special guest judge Lorraine Bracco of The Sopranos. After piecing through Tony Soprano's damaged brain, you can bet she'll be glad to piece through a novice chef's creations.

Bravo is also adding an additional episode to Top Chef's schedule, featuring a reunion of the entire season's cast. In it, the former hopefuls grab their last chance at reality TV fame and wax philosophical about what the show has meant to them.

Similar to Hell's Kitchen, Top Chef pits hopeful chefs against each other in a weekly battle of culinary skills. Unlike Hell's Kitchen, the Top players all come from various food-related backgrounds, and aren't yelled at by Gordon Ramsay.

The Top Chef winner receives $100,000 in seed money to help open their own restaurant, and they'll be featured in Food & Wine magazine, appear at the "Food & Wine Classic" in Aspen in June 2006, and earn the completely made-up title of Top Chef. Even better, they'll receive real-world goodies like a complete gourmet kitchen courtesy of Sears Kenmore.

Hopefuls should log on to Bravo's Web site for complete information about the new round of auditions. Open calls will be held in these cities:

May 11-12: Las Vegas, Las Vegas Hilton

May 16 and 18: New York, Prey Lounge & Bar

May 24: Chicago, Rock Bottom Brewery

June 4: San Francisco, TBD

TBD: Los Angeles, TBD

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