'Top Chef' judges reveal 'curveball' factor that will affect upcoming season 15

Ahead of the season 15 premiere of "Top Chef," the judges of the beloved Bravo hit are previewing what fans can expect as the competition heads to Colorado.

Host Padma Lakshmi, head judge Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons and Graham Elliot took part in a lively panel discussion at New York's 92Y this week and spoke to AOL Entertainment ahead of the event to shed some light on how this season's location of Colorado -- and, specifically, the altitude -- will affect the competition.

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Padma called the altitude an "unseen hand" that affects pretty much everything from the way bread rises to how hard it is to digest food.

"The altitude definitely throws a curveball that is above and beyond what we throw at them," she explained to us. "You can’t really predict who’s going to be familiar with that and who’s not, but you hope that they have some experience with it or have at least done some reading or watched YouTube videos, but that really threw them off."

See photos from the panel:

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'Top Chef' celebrates season 15
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'Top Chef' celebrates season 15

"Top Chef" celebrates season 15 with panel at 92Y.

(Credit: Gianna M Bertoli/ Michael Priest Photography)

"Top Chef" celebrates season 15 with panel at 92Y.

(Credit: Gianna M Bertoli/ Michael Priest Photography)

"Top Chef" celebrates season 15 with panel at 92Y.

(Credit: Gianna M Bertoli/ Michael Priest Photography)

"Top Chef" celebrates season 15 with panel at 92Y.

(Credit: Gianna M Bertoli/ Michael Priest Photography)

"Top Chef" celebrates season 15 with panel at 92Y.

(Credit: Gianna M Bertoli/ Michael Priest Photography)

"Top Chef" celebrates season 15 with panel at 92Y.

(Credit: Gianna M Bertoli/ Michael Priest Photography)

"Top Chef" celebrates season 15 with panel at 92Y.

(Credit: Gianna M Bertoli/ Michael Priest Photography)

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"Also, the altitude makes you tired. It’s not just about how food cooks," Padma continued. "I found myself out of breath a lot, and also you should not drink alcohol. I knew enough not to do that, but you also digest food much slower up there. Things don’t rise when you’re baking. All of that stuff is so important, and it was kind of this unseen hand which makes for exciting television."

Gail echoed those sentiments, saying that "altitude affects everything."

"If you thought the competition was hard before, cooking at altitude makes everything we do with the chefs 10-times more difficult," she said. "We go to different altitudes, too. At one point we’re cooking at 12,000 feet, which is extraordinarily difficult. We also made them bake there, of course. It affects how you feel, how you are able to hold your alcohol -- which is also an issue -- and it didn’t just affect the cast. It affected the crew, it affected [the judges]. I had knee swelling issues, and Padma had altitude sickness."

Graham also agreed with the ladies, but added that the effect that the environment plays into the chefs' ability to get things done "gets taken into consideration" when judging their food. 

"We don't want to set contestants up to fail," he explained.

It was Tom, though, that took an entirely different take on the way that altitude plays a role in the upcoming fifteenth season of "Top Chef."

"I don’t think it affects that much," he explained bluntly. "They knew going in where they were going, and a lot of chefs actually studied up on it and had the answers."

Season 15 of "Top Chef" premieres on Bravo on Thursday, December 7 at 10 p.m. EST.

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