Tournament of Champions Season 5: The first set of qualifiers stake their claim

Kicking off the new season with another twist, Tournament of Champions qualifying rounds started with a four-way battle to become an eighth seed qualifier. Which chef earned the privilege to face Brooke Williamson?
Tournament of Champions Season 5 qualifying rounds
Tournament of Champions Season 5 qualifying rounds / Food Network

While Food Network has a myriad of culinary competitions, Tournament of Champions Season 5 is ready to raise the bar. For this season, four preliminary battles have 16 chefs competing for the eighth seed in each of the competition's brackets.  

The first group of four chefs vying to earn the opportunity to face Tournament of Champions Season 1 champion, Brooke Williamson, are Bruce Kalman, Kevin Lee, Aaron May, and Maria Mazon.  

For the first four-way battle, the Randomizer offered the following required components: stew meat, Brussel sprouts, air fryer, crispy, and 30 minutes. While the air fryer might not be a component in a professional restaurant, the kitchen essential is something that home cooks can appreciate. In this battle, it was the stew meat that was the difference between moving forward and going home.  

Maria Mazon stayed true to her Mexican flavors. Her masa sope with stew meat and salsa had bold spice and a nice creamy texture. Unfortunately, her stew meat was tough, and the dish needed more crispy elements.  

Kevin Lee created a double fried beef. Although the meat was slightly dry, the layers of flavors had the judges salivating. Plus, the dish had lots of crispy elements.  

Aaron May made a black garlic soy beef. While the judges appreciated the nostalgic flavors, they though that the Brussel sprouts were a missed opportunity. In addition, the stew meat was tough.  

Lastly, Bruce Kalman made and Italian meatball with Brussel sprouts two ways. Although the dish could have benefited from some extra acid, the judges appreciated the smart utilization of the randomizer.  

After the scores were revealed, Bruce and Kevin moved into the next battle. Overall, the scores were quite close, which proved a slight misstep can send anyone home.  The qualifying rounds were far from a walk in the park.

For the final battle, Kevin and Bruce had to incorporate chicken thighs, carrots, spiralizer, herbaceous, and 35 minutes. While chicken thighs are flavorful, 35 minutes is a short amount of time to cook that protein thoroughly.  

Kevin played the game well. His harissa blackened chicken thigh with carrot chimichurri and raw salad showcased the herbaceous qualities of the dish. Even though he had concern with frying the chicken thigh with the bone-in, the resulting dish applied the randomizer well, which is a key component to the culinary competition.  

Bruce took a different approach to the randomizer’s ingredients. His polla al diavola was bright, vibrant, and fully herbaceous. While de-boning the chicken was smart, the chicken’s skin could have been crispier. Overall, it was great cooking that celebrates a juxtaposition of textures.  

In the end, only one chef would move into the coveted eight seed spot. Winning the first Tournament of Champions qualifying round was Kevin Lee. He goes onto face Brooke Williamson in the West bracket.  

Could an upset be brewing in Tournament of Champions Season 5? Only time will tell, but Brooke had an opportunity to watch her upcoming competition. It could give her an advantage and the dreaded Randomizer could wipe it all away.  

New episodes of Tournament of Champions Season 5 air on Food Network every Wednesday. The episodes are available to stream the next day on MAX.