Just when I thought Food Network couldn't get any better with their shows, Tournament of Champions arrived. The contestants alone are worth the watch, to actually have some of the biggest names compete in such an ego demeaning way is mind blowing. Many of the All Stars know each other, have judged each other, and or competed on the same show, there is a comradery, and a bragging rights undertone, and to be forced to sit in a room and listen to critique as judges blind taste their plates gets the heart pumping.
The network couldn't have picked a better host, Guy Fieri is the perfect impartial party, with just enough snark to navigate the 16 contestants through the righteously insane challenges, and act as puppet master spinning "The Randomizer", a wheel of death which decides how and what will be cooked.
Let me be honest, the premiere episode had so many rules to follow that I had to create a mental flow chart to keep track – so here it is…
16 contestants are broken down in to two teams the West Coast vs. the East Coast. The All Stars are ranked based on their past culinary wins from 1-8, let me just say, for these famous chefs to be put in order of skill in front of millions of people (and each other) made me cringe (#1 Alex Guarnaschelli East Coast Iron Chef and #1 Antonia Lafaso West Coast Cutthroat Kitchen Judge).
Each episode consists of 3 separate cook-offs among the same coast (#1 Antonia goes up against #8 Marcel Vigneron). The Randomizer decides the protein, produce, equipment, style, and time used. Upon completion of the dish, three judges blind test and rank points based on taste, execution, and presentation, the loser is eliminated. With all due respect, even though it's a "blind test" it's quite obvious based on type of dishes and skill to identify who made what – just saying. Simon Majumdar (regular guest judge on Cutthroat Kitchen, Iron Chef America and Next Iron Chef) and Justin Warner (winner of Food Network Star) work the floor and report details to the judges.
To be cut first would probably the most dreaded thing to happen to them, and I am utterly shocked at one of the eliminated contestants – maybe it will make her a more modest judge in the future when she decides to chop people.
The winner? They get a car… and serious bragging rights!
Round 1: Chef Lafaso vs. Chef Vigneron
- Must use cod, avocados, a microwave, make it sweet, and 30 min to cook
- Antonia showcased execution with her Mediterranean inspired olive oil poached cod, nuked her onion. She is such a pleasure to watch, competitive, skilled, and very bubbly.
- Marcel was inspired by Japanese cuisine and delivered a miso honey cod with toasted mushroom nuking his avocado – I will try that at home.
- Antonia wowed the judges, literally they had nothing to criticize – she did a celebratory dance while in solitary.
- Marcel's was a tiny bit spicy, but again all three judges were blown away by the perfection of the dish and the perfectly cooked cod.
- The win went to Antonia by a mere three points (92/89). The scores are important because the following contestants didn't come close to their perfection, so might say a lot about who the better chef is.
Round 2: Chef Eric Greenspan (grilled cheese guy) vs. Chef Jet Tila (beloved Cutthroat Kitchen judge and Thai culinary ambassador)
- The two apparently are lifelong friends with very different cooking styles – here is where I think it was very easy to figure out who cooked which dish.
- Must use sirloin, mushrooms, a juicer, make it smoky, and do it all in 35 min.
- Eric delivered meatballs with grits and lobster mushrooms which were not a hit with the judges.
- Jet created Thai beef waterfall salad but went a little too light on the smokiness.
- The win went to Jet – maybe using his samurai sword really helped (76/72)
Round 3: Chef Guarnaschelli vs. new kid on the block Darnell Ferguson (winner of Guy's Grocery Games and Ultimate Thanksgiving Challenge): Number One vs Number Eight
- At the pairing, I was very worried how an Iron Chef is paired with a new comer, and the results were shocking.
- Must use pork tenderloin, peas, a waffle iron, glaze the dish, and cooking time 35 min.
- If Alex loses this to me, it will smell of career suicide and some serious embarrassment.
- Alex created waffle iron quesadillas and a glazed pork tenderloin with pea salad, she looked very lost and overwhelmed the entire round – you might see where I'm going with this. . .
- Darnell's dish was an Asian rub pork tenderloin with mustard glaze and he creatively placed mushrooms in his waffle iron.
- Drum roll please – the Iron chef got taken out!!!!
- Darnell beat Alex by one point 72/71, I'm not really sure how she will live this down. Not only did she get eliminated by a newbie, but on day one no less! Ouch!
I am exhilarated with Food Network's Tournament of Champions – honestly, did not expect it to be so dramatic, so good, so well planned out, and interesting to watch. It is delightful to have all my favorite chefs in one arena and credit is to be given, because the circumstances of the show are extremely challenging and egos are #1 on the chopping block.