Tournament of Champions III: Battle Recap – Week 1

Host Guy Fieri with competitors Marc Murphy and Christian Petroni, as seen on Tournament of Champions, Season 1. photo provided by Food Network
Host Guy Fieri with competitors Marc Murphy and Christian Petroni, as seen on Tournament of Champions, Season 1. photo provided by Food Network /

After what felt like forever, Tournament of Champions has returned for a third season to excite foodies everywhere. We have double the chefs, a bigger prize and a Randomizer that seems determined to make every battle a culinary living hell for those involved.

Week 1 gave us four battles, two from the West Coast A bracket and two from the East Coast A bracket. We saw a number of newbies enter the kitchen for the first time as well as a pair of seasoned vets, including the Tournament of Champion II defending champion Maneet Chauhan.

And as if to demonstrate that anything can and likely will happen, we already have our first upset that no one saw coming. A No. 3 seed was sent home by a No. 6 seed in a close battle that showed just how vicious the Randomizer can be.

The judges for Week 1 were Alex Guarnaschelli, making her first appearance on Tournament of Champions since Season 1, returning judges from Season 2 Giada De Laurentiis and the legendary Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in the United States to be awarded three Michelin stars.

Things heat up as the battles begin on Tournament of Champions III.

Battle 1
No. 2 seed Michael Voltaggio vs No. 7 seed Phillip Frankland Lee
Randomizer: Bratwurst/Cherry Tomatoes/Mandoline/Toasted/30 Minutes

After being sent home the previous two years by Brooke Williamson, Michael Voltaggio enters the tournament with a massive chip on his shoulder, which is a shame since he recently had it operated on. He faces newcomer Phillip Frankland Lee who has appeared on Top Chef as well as Guy’s Grocery Games.

Both chefs seemed thrown by the combination of Bratwurst and Toasted, since the first instinct is to simply make a sandwich. Lee kept to his tasting menu style and made something small and delicate while Voltaggio went big and bold and made Bratwurst Kabobs.

While the judges enjoyed both dishes, they noted how Voltaggio nearly forgot to use the Mandoline and they felt that Lee’s dish lacked a real toasted element. The final score reflected that lack of focus from both dishes with Michael Voltaggio getting out an 82-79 victory.

Battle 2
No. 3 seed Tim Hollingsworth vs No. 6 seed Tiffany Derry
Randomizer: Turkey Breast/Sweet Potatoes/Food Processor/Layered/35 Minutes

Both Hollingsworth and Derry are new not only to Tournament of Champions but Food Network as well. Hollingsworth is considered by some to be the best chef in America right now and has a long track record of success, which is why he comes in as a No. 3 seed.

However, the Randomizer was not kind and evened the playing field. As all foodies know, it is almost impossible to cook turkey in the amount of time they were given. Derry smartly fried the turkey and kept to her soul food roots while Hollingsworth went for a take on a Thanksgiving dinner.

Unfortunately, that proved to be his downfall. Crenn in particular didn’t seem to understand what Hollingsworth was going for and it resulted in the first upset of the tournament, with Derry getting a 90-88 win.

Keep an eye on Tiffany Derry. She may be one to watch.

Battle 3
No. 4 seed Kelsey Barnard Clark vs No. 5 seed Eric Adjepong
Randomizer: Ground Chicken/Cucumbers/Meat Mallet/Seared/25 Minutes

Battle 3 saw a rematch of a pair of Top Chef rivals as Clark was the winner of Season 16, the same season Adjepong came in third. Of course, neither had to cook Ground Chicken in just 25 minutes on Top Chef, lucky for them.

While Adjepong seared his ground chicken and served it with creamy grits, Clark made a version of chicken fried steak and gravy. Crenn loved what Adjepong did with the chicken in the time he had while all three judges were not as impressed with Clark’s dish.

The big issue was that Clark served a summer salad with seared leeks, something both De Laurentiis and Crenn thought was a mistake. It resulted in a loss for Clark as she was sent home after a scoring a 75 to Adjepong’s 79.

Main Event
No. 1 seed Maneet Chauhan vs No. 8 seed Richard Hales
Randomizer: Tilapia/Poblano Peppers/Garlic Press’Roasted’30 Minutes

The road to being the first repeat champion begins now for Chauhan as she faces Diners, Drive-ins and Dives mainstay Hales. Hales won his chance to be on Tournament of Champions thanks to a play-in event on Guy’s Grocery Games.

But make no mistake, Hales can cook. He went for an Asian-style dish and made Sichuan Tilapia and served it on fried rice. On the other hand, Chauhan went for a new spin on the classic Fish and Chips and fried the Tilapia and served it over roasted potatoes.

The judges felt the peppers got lost in both dishes and that the potatoes in Chauhan’s overpowered the Tilapia while Hales’ presentation was lacking. In what could have been a huge upset, the defending champ earned a razor thin one point victory, 82-81.

Next. Our pick for the winner of Next Level Chef is…. dark

What did you think of the first week of Tournament of Champions III? Did it live up to the hype? Leave a comment below and let us know or join the conversation on our Twitter and Facebook pages.