Las Vegas is the Celebrity Chef Capital of the Solar System, with more brand-name fine-dineries per square mile than anywhere else this side of the Kuiper belt.

Las Vegas is the Celebrity Chef Capital of the Solar System, with more brand-name fine-dineries per square mile than anywhere else this side of the Kuiper belt.

That makes it a tempting setting for Top Chef, the Bravo reality competition that's turned culinary showmanship into a spectator sport. If the premiere episode is any indication, the series is ready to take full advantage of the location.

The first elimination challenge is set in the gleaming kitchen of Cut, one of Wolfgang Puck's Vegas outlets, and Puck's piercing turn as a guest judge is the episode's funniest highlight. Top Chef could work its way up and down the Strip without running out of outspoken five-star visitors.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Vegas reality show without the usual tropes, and sure enough, the first Quickfire Challenge is introduced by a parade of showgirls in full feathered regalia.

(Personally, I'm hoping for a fried-peanut-butter-and-banana-sandwich challenge that features before-and-after Skinny Elvis and Fat Elvis impersonators as judges. But I'm throwing the remote at my TV the first time someone says "What happens in Vegas ...")

Some of the Sin City gimmicks do pay off, adding a few twists to the format for the show's sixth season.

The first "High-Stakes" Quickfire winner gets a $15,000 casino chip, and the chef who wins immunity in the challenge has to decide whether to keep the free pass or risk it for a chance to win the money. It's a gamble!

For the elimination challenge, the chefs are asked to represent their personal vices. Naturally, most of the menu is basted in booze (Eli's Buttered Scotch Scallops had me salivating).

The trick will be to keep the glitter from overshadowing the serious cooking, which has always distinguished Top Chef as more high-minded than most reality fare. After all, this is a show that uses haute-cuisine phrases like "mise en place" without irony and without explanation.

This season's slate of chefs seems to be up to the challenge. The contestants include seven executive chefs, five chef-owners, two James Beard Award nominees and one Frenchman in a jaunty scarf. Oui oui.

My picks for chefs to watch: Mike, a meathead in graphic tees with surprisingly sharp self-taught skills, and Kevin, a quiet genius whose lumberjack beard makes him look like the brooding keyboard player in an indie-rock band.

With so much talent in the kitchen, though, there's also a risk that the drama will never boil over (the summer spin-off Top Chef Masters, for instance, was all skill and no sizzle). Hopefully Vegas will be just decadent enough to keep things interesting.