Tournament of Champions 3 episode 3 recap: Let the upsets begin

Host Guy Fieri with Judges Traci Des Jardins, Lorena Garcia, and Eric Ripert, as seen on Tournament of Champions, Season 3. Photo courtesy Food Network
Host Guy Fieri with Judges Traci Des Jardins, Lorena Garcia, and Eric Ripert, as seen on Tournament of Champions, Season 3. Photo courtesy Food Network /

Over the past two seasons of Tournament of Champions, getting through the first round is never easy, especially for the top seeds. Although the first two episodes of Tournament of Champions 3 had a few unlikely outcomes, the reality is everyone is wondering will big name tumble off the bracket. In Tournament of Champions 3 episode 3, it was less about the randomizer and more about the mastering the challenge.

With 32 chefs in this tremendous bracket, everyone was wondering how the favorite chefs would fare. Even though many of the competitors have been part of Top Chef, Chopped, Guy’s Grocery Games and more, the reality is that this culinary competition is unlike the others. Whether it is the difficulty of the randomizer or the judges’ scrutiny, these plates need to be near perfect to have a chef advance to the next round.

Tournament of Champions 3 episode 3 – Antonia Lofaso versus Joe Sasto

In this Top Chef alumni battle, Antonia Lofaso versus Joe Staso might be the Italian battle that many people wanted to see when the brackets were announced. Although Antonia has more culinary competition experience, Staso is uber creative. But, the food on the plate not only has to meet the requirements but also impress the judges. Creativity just because may not be the best choice.

The Randomizer bequeathed the chefs flank steak, asparagus, drum grater, smashed, and 30 minutes. While this food combination might not be totally out of the box, the simplicity brings a word of caution. Ensuring that each element is highlighted on the plate is key.

With Antonia’s dish, she had a lovely plate that brought a taste of African cuisine. The brightness of the cucumbers with the richness of the peanut sauce was delightful. But, her asparagus was hidden in the chimichurri. Even if the bite was perfect, it didn’t necessarily showcase a required element.

Joe took a bolder approach. Although there were a few execution issues, cooking the asparagus in asparagus juice was a creative way to enhance that flavor. Overall, his dish was successful.

Listening to the judges’ commentary, it came down to which chef highlighted all the ingredients best. Similar to the old school Iron Chef, hiding an ingredient is not a good choice. Since the asparagus was lost in her dish, Joe Sasto beat Antonia Lofaso.

Tournament of Champions Season 3 episode 3 –  Shirley Chung versus Marcus Vigneron

In another former Top Chef face off, Shirley Chung took on Marcus Vigneron. While these two chefs have very different approaches to cuisine, the reality is that they are no stranger to the pressure of a culinary competition. Although they will both stay in their wheelhouse, the reality is that this round is definitely a toss-up.

For their random group of requirements, the chefs received chicken legs, portobello mushrooms, air popcorn machine, pickled and 30 minutes. Needless to say, this set of ingredients played into Shirley’s strengths.

But, the air popcorn machine was the twist no one wanted. While Marcus did make popcorn, it didn’t have to be used that way. Shirley used it to roast nuts. This creative thinking is something that home cooks should learn from. Just like a waffle maker doesn’t have to be used to make waffles, kitchen essentials can have different uses.

Shirley focused on a more traditional Asian inspired dish. Although the amount of porridge was debated by the judges, the overall flavors were good. There was smart use of ingredients and techniques.

Unfortunately, Marcus made a big mistake on his dish. One of the plates had undercooked chicken. While his concept with the buttermilk fried chicken and various pickles was smart, the major cooking error could not be overlooked.

Shirley Chung beat Marcus Vigneron. She moves onto the Round of 16.

Tournament of Champions Season 3 episode 3 – Justin Sutherland versus Karen Akunowicz

Continuing the Top Chef alumni theme, Justin Sutherland took on Karen Akunowicz. While both chefs have been hugely successful in their respective restaurants, this battle was definitely a toss up. Basically it came down to which chef presented a dish that resonated with the judges more.

In probably the hardest battle of the night, the Randomizer offered the chefs ham, artichoke hearts, frozen drink machine, glazed and 30 minutes. The ham was definitely the hardest protein of the episode. Since it is pre-cooked, the chefs have to balance that flavor. No one wants a salt lick on a plate.

More importantly, the chefs had to think of the kitchen essential beyond its intended use. A frozen drink machine is just a big blender. Appreciating that fact was key for both chefs.

Justin was smart to go with a sandwich. That concept helps to keep the flavors of the ham in check. But, all the sauces seemed to hide some of the artichoke hearts flavors. It was a great bite but highlighting all the ingredients was slightly off.

Karen decided to fry the ham, but found a way to keep it from being too heavy. Although a rustic dish, the flavors nuanced. Although some items were debated by the judges, the overall sentiment was that the dish was a good one.

In the end, Karen beat Justin. It was an overall better dish that secured her a spot in the round of 16.

Tournament of Champions Season 3 episode 3 – Darnell Ferguson vs Aarthi Sampath

In the final first round battle, Darnell Ferguson took on Aarthi Sampath. The battle of the number 1 seed versus the number 8 seed had the foreshadowing of being the showdown of the night. While Darnell had been the upset king in the first season of Tournament of Champions, everyone was waiting to see if history would repeat itself.

The Randomizer offered a few unlikely ingredients, skirt steak, beets, electric peeler, rolled and 30 minutes. The electric peeler is something that is not part of a professional kitchen. Beets is not an easy ingredient nor is properly executing a rolled dish.

In some ways, both chefs took a similar approach to the requirements. Both made rolled skirt steaks, but neither dish was perfect. Aarthi’s beef was slightly over and Darnell’s was slightly under.

Aarthi had the smartest use of the electric peeler. Using a thin piece of beet to tie up the skirt steak. It really showed that she was ready to play the game.

Darnell’s dish was good, but it had some mis-steps. It was good, but not up to the level of creativity that he has shown in previous seasons.

In the end, the last battle of the first round ended in an upset. Aarthi beat Darnell by two points. It seems that what goes around comes around.

The round of 16 is set. From upsets to favorites moving on, the chefs start again with a clean slate. Are there more upsets brewing? Be sure to watch the next episode of Tournament of Champions Season 3 Sunday at 8 p.m.