Tournament of Champions recap: Who earned the final bracket spot?

Host Guy Fieri on set, as seen on Tournament of Champions, Season 2. Photo provided by Food Network
Host Guy Fieri on set, as seen on Tournament of Champions, Season 2. Photo provided by Food Network /

With one bracket spot remaining, the Tournament of Champions East Wild Card rounds were intense for the chefs. In a few of the most impressive battles yet, the chefs appreciate that this Food Network title has to be earned. Which chef moves on to be the eight seed in the East?

Similar to last week’s Wild West battles, the East Wild Card round brought out the best of the chefs. Although Food Network fans appreciated that Tournament of Champions Season 2 was not going to be walk in the park, no one could have predicted the dishes in the first couple of battles. The excitement is building for the main bracket.

The four chefs competing in the East Wild Card rounds are Tiffani Faison, Cliff Crooks, Elizabeth Faulkner and Bobby Marcotte. While all four chefs have culinary competition experience, the reality is that two chefs seemed destined to meet for the final bracket berth.

For the first battle, Tiffani Faison versus Cliff Crooks, this challenge should have been a main heat event. Both chefs are quite creative and want to win. Sometimes the best dishes do not occur in the finale and this example is quite applicable.

Faced with an interesting combination of ingredients from the randomizer, pork chops, peas, French fry press, and Italian dinner, the chefs could have taken this dish in many directions. In a way, the dishes had some rustic qualities while still being quite elevated.

Looking at Chef Tiffani’s dish, she made smart choices, like Chef Nyesha in the previous episode. By using peas in multiple ways as well as using the French fry press creatively earned the judges’ praises. While the pork Milanese had a good visual, the flavor really scored.

For Chef Cliff, he hoped that his agrodolce would provide the sweet and sour boost to earn his dish the victory. While there was good balance, the pork chop on the bone was the real winner.

With the highest score in Tournament of Champions Season 2, Chef Tiffani beat Chef Cliff with a score of 90 vs 85. To say that this battle was worthy of the main bracket is an understatement.

In the next battle, culinary competition veteran Elizabeth Faulkner took on Bobby Marcotte. Needless to say, these two chef represented different ends of the spectrum. No disrespect to the Triple D chefs of the world, but Elizabeth Faulkner has a different culinary pedigree. The celebrated savory and pastry chef understands food nuances better than most. Although she has come close in previous culinary competitions, like Iron Chef, this season of Tournament of Champions is different.

For the second culinary battle, the randomizer offered Italian sausage, cauliflower, mortar and pestle and steakhouse dinner. With so many flavor combination possibilities, the chefs’ dishes were on two totally different ends of the spectrum.

As Chef Bobby’s plate was presented to the judges the dish was cacophony of ingredients. While a steakhouse dinner is often a robust plate of food, the reality is that this dish was overwhelming. Although the judges referenced that the plate lacked harmony, it was more than the inability to find a fully composed bite. It was culinary confusion.

For Chef Elizabeth’s dish, she took a different approach to the challenge. Whether other chefs might put the Italian sausage as the focus, her dish chose to highlight a cauliflower. Since a cauliflower steak adapts the flavors of the grill, it was a smart choice.

In some ways, that creative approach is why Chef Elizabeth did well in Iron Chef competitions. The ability to adapt based on her wealth of food knowledge is clear. With the Italian sausage as part of a ragu, her dish might have been a little bit of a mess but it was one that made the judges go back to discover more.

With the final score being 79 to 74, Chef Elizabeth moved on to battle Chef Tiffani. While the two chefs are friends, the reality is only one chef would win. Sometimes playing the game can be more important than a creative approach to the randomly chosen required Tournament of Champion required ingredients.

With a berth as the eighth seed awaiting the winner, the final dish needed to include Tri-tip, broccoli, the panni press and hot lunch. While the panni press and hot lunch seemed a little too coincidental, this round seemed a little off.

Did anyone notice that the meat tenderizer was more appropriate for smashing walnuts than flattening a protein? Granted Chef Elizabeth turned to a cast iron pan for the tri tip but was “lack of kitchen tools” part of the challenge? Is limited kitchen equipment the new ice cream machine in Food Network competitions?

Still, as the plates were presented to the judges, the journey to the first bite was forgotten and just the food has to tell its story. While the blind taste test does take away a potential bias, there seems to be some lack of connection to the plate. Granted, there is an explanation of the ingredients and methodology, but the judges have to fill in the gaps. Maybe the competing chefs could write their own dish descriptions.

For Chef Elizabeth’s dish, she served a patty melt with a broccoli kimchi. One of the creative aspects to her hot lunch was the use of persimmons to add that touch of seasonality and sweetness. Overall, her contrasting flavors and the balance of all the ingredients proved to be very successful.

In Chef Tiffani’s sandwich, it almost seemed that the broccolini was the star of the dish. Although her tri tip was slightly under cooked, the dish was successful.

While Chef Elizabeth was looking for redemption, she appreciates that in this competition a chef is only as good as her last dish. Unfortunately, the judges preferred Chef Tiffani’s dish.

Personally, Chef Elizabeth’s patty melt seemed more creative and versatile. But, the judges had their preferences.

Now, the sweet 16 bracket is set. Could one of the Wild Card chefs knock out a number one seed? Based on what has happened in the first two episodes of Tournament of Champions Season 2, anything is possible.

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What did you think of the East Wild Card round? Did the best chef earn the final bracket berth?