HOLLYWOOD—Guy Fieri hands down is the greatest culinary host I have ever witnessed on TV people. Food Network knew this guy was a star after he competed years ago, on the second season of “Food Network Star.” I can watch “Diners, Dives and Drive-ins” all day and he’s currently hosting my FAVORITE CULINARY SHOW IN THE WORLD, “Tournament of Champions.” When this competition series first premiered in 2020, I thought it was genius, and it became a guilty pleasure I look forward to each year.
Brooke Williamson, I didn’t know her name before season one, but she proved to be a beast making it to the finale all three seasons. She won the first season, lost season two and season three. Guess what America, “TOC” is back for season four, but Brooke is not here, which means the door is wide open for a bevy of competitors. And I mean iconic competitors to do battle against that randomizer which is genius, the blind tasting (HELLO ALL CULINARY COMPETITIONS SHOULD DO THIS!), not to mention a slate of judges who are impressive as hell (except the judges should rotate with every duel in my opinion). I don’t want to see the same judges judge all the dishes for a particular round, deliver a curveball, shake things up a bit.
Just to give you an idea of the chefs competing this time around: Iron Chefs Jose Garces and Stephanie Izard. We have former winner Maneet Chauhan and current winner Tiffani Faison. Jet Tila who is able to compete without going against Brooke, there is Antonio Lofaso, who proved her prowess the first two seasons. We also have underdog threats in Madison Cowan and Tobias Dorzon. We have one of the greatest chefs who I rooted for in the second season of “The Next Iron Chef” in Nate Appleman. There are “Top Chef” stars Shirley Chung, Lee Ann Wong and Brian Malarkey. There are so many great chefs competing in this competition it is just a fuel of fire for aspiring cooks.
Other contenders entering the bracket include Adam Sobel, Tracey Shepos Cenami, Graham Elliott, Joe Sasto, Elizabeth Faulkner, Crista Luedtke, Tiffany Derry, Viet Pham, Jonathan Sawyer, Karen Akunowicz, Kelsey Bernard Clark, Eric Adjepong, Ilan Hall, Darnell Ferguson, Shota Nakajima, Carlos Anthony, Mei Lin, Christian Petroni, Leah Cohen and Britt Rescigno. I am surprised Michael Voltaggio isn’t back this season because that guy can cook and he suffered the same fate that Jet faced in the previous season, Brooke Williamson. However, Brooke’s not here this time around.
The first battle of the tournament was Iron Chef Jose Garces vs. Kelsey Barnard Clark. Garces can cook people, but this randomizer will be a determinant of who wins and who loses, with a new twist: WILD CARD! Time is no longer a category, and this is a doozy people. Ground beef, that was a good protein, but Jose won the wild card and got to spin it again to choose: Boneless Pork Chops, Celery, Box Grater and Smashed. Hmm. Fun to see Garces back in the kitchen, I would love to see Geoffrey Zakarian, Michael Symon or Bobby Flay in “TOC.” Could you imagine the mayhem?
Jose was victorious in that first round, while the second battle was Eric versus Graham and there is a bit of history between these two people. Graham was responsible for Eric losing while he was on “Top Chef.” The randomizer gave the contestants Turkey Thighs, Sweet, Radicchio and Stand Mixer. This second battle feels close, but in the end it was Eric who edged out his foe, by 4 points people. A surprise, but proves your ranking in the bracket means nothing, anyone can go out, that’s what I love about this series people. Eric vs Jose is going to be a brutal battle.
The third battle of the night was between Brian Malarkey and Lee Ann Wong, rivals going toe-to-toe with each other yet again. This randomizer gave the competitors Salmon, Spinach, Crepe Maker and Poached, and the Wild Card allowed Lee Ann to re-spin the style, and they got the same style again: POACHED! I was wondering if something like that would transpire and it did. This was a really close battle, where it was so close I didn’t want to see either of these chefs go because they were at the top when it comes to cooking and I was stunned to see Lee Ann Wong take out Brian Malarkey. Even Lee Ann was shocked by her win.
The final round of the night was between Jet Tila and Carlos Anthony where the randomizer gave venison tenderloin, red onion, manual egg beater and broiled, but a re-spin on equipment gave Manual Egg Beater again. I was secretly rooting for Carlos because all the technique he used to craft various tastes for the red onion was genius, however, it was Tila who moved on to the next round. Next week, we see another eight chefs go to battle with four leaving, which means after 2 weeks we will have a total of 24 chefs remaining. “Tournament of Champions” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on Food Network.