In the Tournament of Champions Season 2 premiere, the Wild Card Round added another twist to the Guy Fieri chef competition. Although certain elements of the Food Network competition have returned (I.e. the randomizer, blind tasting, occasional chaos), the play-in concept for the final two spots in the TOC bracket adds another level to the culinary competition.
Still, one element from last season seems to be re-appearing in the Tournament of Champions Season 2. Did you figure out the secret?
Battling it out for the West Coast Wild Card slot were Nyesha Arrington, Phillips Franklen Lee, Chris Oh and Chris Cosentino. While all the chefs have had success in various arenas, there is a little touch of old school versus new school in the bracket. To keep one element the same for all chefs, each battle was only 30 minutes and only one chef would move on to be the eighth seed.
To kick off the competition, Nyseha Arrington took on Chris Cosentino. Anyone who is a fan of culinary competition would instantly recognize these two chefs. With a battle of ground beef, avocado, box grater, and guilty pleasure, this competition sounded more like a late night eats battle.
Looking at the two dishes, the ideas seemed obvious, gourmet burgers versus gourmet nachos. While both dishes had great flavor, Cosentino’s dish needed a touch of brightness or acid.
The biggest difference was the plating. Nyesha’s nachos had an element that made it just a little more pleasurable. With a final score of 84 vs 86, Nyesha earned her spot in the next round.
For the next bracket battle, Chris Oh faced Phillip Frankland Lee. Although both chefs had competed in other Food Network competitions, their names and faces might not be quite as familiar.
From the randomizer, the chefs received chicken cutlets, shallots, hand mixer and perfect to-go takeout. Given these elements, it seemed that the battle was designed for Chris Oh. As the king of food trucks, it seemed like he had an easy win.
This round was the chicken battle. Chris’ Korean fried chicken was almost addictive. The sweet, spicy and umami wowed the judges. But, the chicken was slightly dry.
On the other hand, Phillip’s chicken was beautifully cooked. Still, his dish was more of a restaurant style dish in a takeout container. Plus, the judges were missing the shallots.
With the final score or 77 vs 80, Chris won the round and went onto battle Nyesha. For their battle to earn a spot in main competition, the two chefs had to create a dish that included shrimp, Russett potatoes, used a blender and was a brunch dish. To say that this combination was slightly daunting was an understatement.
As Nyesha built her dish, it was clear that she was playing to win. She created layers of flavors and incorporated the required ingredients throughout the dish. In some ways, she was going back to the classic Iron Chef style of competition. It was about showing how many creative ways each ingredient could be used to infuse flavor.
Chris took a different approach. His dish was all about tasty hangover food. While it wasn’t overbearing, it was a big bite. The shrimp tacos with fried potatoes would be better than any hair of the dog.
When the judges took to the tastings, the winner seemed to be evident. Even though it was a blind tasting, the judges might have had an inkling which winner from the first round was plated in round two. Although the dishes were different, the cooking styles were clear. Granted, the judges don’t know the chefs, they are astute.
With a final score of 82 vs 87, Nyesha earned her spot into the main bracket. Overall, her scores were quite impressive. It could be quite possible that another big Tournament of Champions upset is in the making.
Probably one of the biggest takeaways from the Tournament of Champions Season 2 premiere is that it seemed to give the edge to the new guard of chefs. Both Chris Cosentino and Phillip Frankland Lee are esteemed restaurant chefs. They are well established and their list of accomplishments are long, even though Phillip is quite young. Still, their style seems to be a little more old school, Cosentino’s cooking especially.
Still, Tournament of Champions is still a culinary competition. It is about playing the game well, not just a delicious plate of food. Given Nyesha’s first two dishes, she seems to be on track to be a force in the bracket. Maybe Food Network fans might want to get that eraser ready and re-seed their picks.
Next week, four more chefs battle for the final spot in the East bracket. Given the findings in the Tournament of Champions Season 2 premiere, the creativity and attention to detail better be on display. Then again, it could come down to who uses that kitchen equipment correctly. Don’t all the chefs hate that element?
What did you think of the Tournament of Champions Season 2 premiere? Could Nyesha go far in this season?