HOLLYWOOD—I love to cook, and nothing is more entertaining than witnessing iconic, culinary titans in the kitchen facing unsurmountable odds and delivering food that leaves you speechless and wanting more. I honestly thought and still think “The Next Iron Chef” series is one of the best culinary cooking competitions ever. I have a major love for season 4 and season 5 of the series people. That brings me to Food Network’s “Tournament of Champions.”
The first season was crazy with Chef Brooke Williamson, a seventh seed rising to the top defeating fourth seed Amanda Freitag. Look people have slept on Amanda, that woman can cook her a** off and I’m still a bit bitter that she lost to Alex Guarnaschelli during the fifth season of “The Next Iron Chef.” I love Alex still, but Amanda was killing it that season. With that said, the second season of the series returned this week and whew the level of firepower people, I thought the first season had powerhouse chefs, but damn, season two raised the stakes.
For those not in the know, it’s like an NCAA Bracket, only instead of 64 teams, its 16 chefs, and for season two we kicked off with a wild card battle with 8 chefs, competing for two seeds (one in the West and one in the East). I will admit I didn’t know all the chefs competing in the wild card round. Names that did stand out Nyesha Aarington, Chris Cosentino and Elizabeth Faulkner, names I know that competed on “The Next Iron Chef” and the Bravo hit “Top Chef.”
It was a battle for the West, and the first battle involved Chris and Nyesha and the randomizer causing absolute chaos as we know. I love this because it is so random and it forces the chefs to think quick on their feet, with an unknown protein, produce, piece of equipment, style of cooking and the amount of time. Whew, this first round of ground beef, avocado, box grater and a guilty pleasure in 30 minutes, whew, good luck. I was rooting for both of them because they are culinary powerhouses.
In addition, this series is so great because we have blind tasting. That does help because the judges are NOT influenced by who is cooking and potential friendships being hurt by scoring. The judges for this round included Marcus Samuelsson, Giada De Laurentiis and Rocco DiSpirito. Surprised to see Rocco as a judge, considering he was a competitor last season. Chris’ dish looked fantastic, upscale and tasty as hell, whereas Nyesha’s seemed a bit more family friend; I wasn’t sure about it as a dish on a culinary competition. This first battle was determined by 2 points with Nyesha just barely moving on against Chris who I thought should have taken the round. Gosh, my investment in these chefs in this tournament is crazy!
The second battle saw Chefs Chris Oh and Phillip Frankland Lee duking it out over chicken cutlets, takeout food, shallots and utilize the handheld mixer in the process. I immediately thought Chris’ dish was takeout, whereas, Phillip’s was more restaurant worthy, but didn’t scream takeout for me, which most of the judges agreed with, and it was easy to see how Chris Oh moved on to the next round.
So it was a battle against Nyesha and Chris Oh for that coveted eighth seed in the West region. The battle included shrimp, russet potatoes, blender, Sunday brunch and in 30 minutes. Yeah, I don’t even know what I would do with those ingredients. I think it was the brunch aspect that threw me off, but both chefs came up with unique ideas.
Once created a shrimp hollandaise, the other came up with a breakfast taco using seafood as the vessel. It was looking dicey for both chefs who had valid critiques from the judges, but it was Nyesha who came out with the victory and managed to earn that 8th seed in the West region. So the west has its competitors and now it is time to find out which chef from the Wild Card region will earn that 8th seed for the East.
Next week, we see a powerhouse in Elizabeth Faulkner compete against others for that eighth seed in the East. I hate to say it, but I’m secretly rooting for Elizabeth people. “Tournament of the Champions II” airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. on Food Network.