Celebrity Chef Kevin Lee enjoys the challenge of Tournament of Champions, interview

Chef Kevin Lee on Tournament of  Champions Season 5
Chef Kevin Lee on Tournament of Champions Season 5 / Food Network

Having earned a spot in the main bracket after winning the Qualifier, celebrity Chef Kevin Lee was ready to make an impact in Tournament of Champions Season 5. After winning the first round against top seed Brooke Williamson, the Oklahoma based chef hopes to have more successes on the popular Food Network program.

When Chef Lee earned the win against Chef Williamson, some people might have thought the possibility was unexpected. For anyone who has watched him compete on Food Network over the years or who has had the privilege of eating at his restaurant, Birdies, appreciates that he is a tremendous talent. From his tremendous culinary knowledge to his enthusiasm for celebrating Asian cuisine, this chef might not necessarily be the most well-known name in the bracket but he is on the verge of being one of those chefs.

Recently, FoodSided had the privilege of chatting with celebrity Chef Kevin Lee about this experience on Tournament of Champions Season 5. Anyone who tunes into each food television episode is often intrigued by the Randomizer and the chefs’ ability bring together unlikely components into a memorable dish.

Although not necessarily the term used on the show, the idea of adaptability is key to Tournament of Champions success. When asked about what led to his Qualifier triumph and win over the former TOC champion, Chef Lee offered this insight.

“I think that it is important to be very diverse in your culinary cooking. You do not know what you are going to get from the Randomizer. The more you know, the more you have up your sleeve, the more experiences that you have had, the places you have lived, the food that you have eaten, all those items come into play. Creating a dish within a couple of minutes of seeing that Randomizer, a dish that is delicious and makes sense, it is a challenge.”

“For many of us chefs, we really enjoy that challenge. We rise to the occasion when that pressure is on. I really enjoy that aspect of the competition.”

Given that he went through the qualifying rounds, Chef Lee was positive about the play-in competition. He believes that it was a blessing. At the same time, he understood that if he did not win, he would not be in the tournament. Specifically, he mentioned “it plays a big advantage because you find of get a warm-up round. I got a couple of rounds under my belt before I had to start the main bracket.”

Even though winning three rounds in the qualifier was an accomplishment, moving into the Tournament of Champions Season 5 round of 16 was not an easy task. As the eighth seed facing the number one seed, Chef Lee took a clear approach to the task at hand.

He said, “it really does not matter who you are going against. On that day, if you do not cook, if you do not perform well, it does not matter. Every chef in that arena is great at what they do. In a way, you are battling against yourself. I felt like I had a chance because I focused on bringing out the best of me, more than just beating Brooke.”

The dish that earned Chef Lee the win, his pork loin, received high praise from the judges. He explained that his idea stemmed from a recent schnitzel that he had at fellow competitor Chef Crista Luedtke’s restaurant and a classic Japanese dish that he grew up eating. Specifically, he believed that the Randomizer really benefited him in the round and he presented a well-executed dish. In his recollection, that combination earned the winning score.

Although it is his first time competing in Tournament of Champions, Chef Lee is no stranger to Food Network competitions. He believes that anytime a chef can be comfortable with the idea of cooking within the timeframes and understanding how to use the competition’s pantry, it is helpful to how well a chef can compete. Sometimes understanding and being familiar with the setting is just as important as being dealt a good hand from the Randomizer.

While only one chef will raise the Tournament of Champions belt in victory, Food Network viewers appreciate how the chefs interact with and support each other through this competition. As Chef Lee explained, “the most awesome thing through this whole TOC experience was how warm and welcoming all the chefs were. They were accepting and took me under their wing.” That sentiment goes to show that the Food Network chefs might be like a whole extended family. There are not too many people who have gone through these unique experiences.

Will celebrity Chef Kevin Lee earn more victories in Tournament of Champions Season 5? Food Network fans will have to turn into new episodes on Sunday nights at 8 p.m. to see which chefs move forward. All episodes can be steamed the next day on MAX.