Tournament of Champions S2E5 recap: Unlikely winners and a global randomizer?

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

As the quarterfinals await, Tournament of Champions posed a simple question. Are the chefs just losing a battle or did a dish really win? Sometimes the answer is clearer than Food Network fans realize.

Going into this Tournament of Champions episode, two first round battles needed to be decided. Although last week’s win by Tiffani Faison over Amanda Freitag might have surprised some, the reality is that the judges’ opinions vary. Is there a secret answer to the randomizer riddle that the judges are looking for?

For the first battle, Bryan Voltaggio took on Christian Petroni. Although Petroni had a higher ranked seed, many people though that the Top Chef veteran, Bryan Voltaggio, could earn a big knock out. Although Voltaggio might have come up short of the Top Chef crown, the reality is that his creativity has impressed many people.

Going into this first round battle, the randomizer presented pork shoulder, honey crisp apples, food mill, braised and 35 minutes. Looking at this list of ingredients, it seemed slanted towards Petroni. In some ways, the comfort food ingredients lacked a spark that could get Voltaggio’s innovation to skyrocket. To say that this combination looked like a big soft ball that a chef could hit out of the park is an understatement.

For his dish, Petroni presented a pork braciole. While the classic Italian style dish brought big flavor, the dish was diminutive. While it might be a perfect portion for a tasting menu, everyone commented how small it was. But, the dish was well balanced, even though it was just a few bites.

Bryan Voltaggio presented an elevated twist on pork chops and apple sauce. Even with that playful approach, he was able to showcase pork two ways (pork milanese and pork sausage) and apple two ways. Usually using ingredients in multiple ways scores high with the judges, but not every time.

The judges felt that the dish didn’t quite come together. It lacked a high acid to balance the other flavors. Given all the techniques, ingredients and thoughtfulness, the criticism seemed unusual.

As the scores were revealed, Petroni beat Voltaggio. The difference came down to flavor, even though Voltaggio had a resounding win in the plating category.

Although this outcome fit the seedings, many Food Network fans would have guessed that Bryan Voltaggio would have won. In some ways, it seemed that he lost the battle versus Petroni winning. Did Voltaggio think that he had the competition in the bag or maybe it was a version of the Top Chef Quickfire curse still haunting him?

Could Tournament of Champions see another upset?

For the last first round battle, Maneet Chauhan took on Madison Cowan. While this battle seemed slanted on paper, the reality that that nothing is a given in Tournament of Champions.

In many ways, the randomizer might have given Chauhan a gift. With the combination of bison, navel oranges, steamer basket, fried and 35 minutes, it seemed that this random list of ingredients played into her global flavors expertise.

Although steamed and fried might not go together, Chauhan found a perfect dish. Her Saag Kofta was the solution. The fried bison was stuffed with cheese and then enrobed with the steamed spinach puree. The dish had many bright notes. It was very well played.

While Rocco Dispirito may not have found the clear line connecting all the components, he did appreciate the flavors. It seemed that Dispirito was having a problem with finding the composition in many of the dishes. Maybe he wasn’t able to see the forest through the trees.

For Cowan’s dish, the bison bulgogi was well cooked. But, he had many components on a plate that didn’t all come together. While each item was well cooked, there was no connection, which left the judges feeling that the dish lacked cohesion.

In a resounding win, Chauhan beat Cowan with a score of 83 to 76. Although the two dishes didn’t seem that far apart, the judges were more critical in this Tournament of Champions episode. Maybe the chefs didn’t get the Cliff Notes on how to appeal to this judging panel.

And now the Tournament of Champions Quarterfinals.

With the final first rounds complete, the quarterfinal matches began. In an unlikely twist, two battles are rematches and the first one is Brooke Williamson versus Michael Voltaggio. Although Michael Voltaggio had the highest scoring plate from round one, his dishes can be a little cerebral. Could that complexity cause him to falter in round two?

Since Tournament of Champions always looks to add another layer of difficulty, the randomizer has a new twist. It is now the global randomizer. That change means not only do the ingredients have a global twist, but the kitchen tools might also not be found at the local Target.

For this battle, the chefs had to combine duck breast, bamboo, takoyaki pan, Latin America and 40 minutes. If you didn’t know bamboo wasn’t just for koala bears, now you know that you can use those sprouts in a salad too. Also, the takoyaki pan might need to be added you’re your kitchen wish list.

Looking at the two dishes, the chefs went in different directions. Williamson’s dish had a pan roasted duck breast with pickled bamboo sprouts and a tortilla hay. All the judges commented that it was a beautifully constructed dish. There was a sense of whimsy to the balance of flavors.

Michael Voltaggio went with a carne asada style duck. The judges though that the spice mixture was convincing but they felt that the wonton empanada was a misstep.

The most interesting part of the battle was that Voltaggio used the takoyaki pan in a way that it was intended, a mold for his bamboo enrobed in avocado. But, Williamson only use the pan for toasting spices. It seems that Voltaggio should have received more points for proper usage of the pan.

With a final score of 91 to 88, Brooke Williamson was once again victorious over Michael Voltaggio. After his convincing win over Cat Cora, it was surprising that he didn’t prevail over Williamson.

Looking ahead to next week’s remaining quarterfinal battles, the global randomizer will make the difference. Even though it might be “random,” there is a secret to that spinning wheel. The chef who presents the judges with the best answer will earn another win.

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Did you agree with the Tournament of Champions outcome? Which chef do you think will walk away with the title?