Tournament of Champions III: Battle Recap – Week 3

Competitor Darnell Ferguson, as seen on Tournament of Champions, Season 1. photo provided by Food Network
Competitor Darnell Ferguson, as seen on Tournament of Champions, Season 1. photo provided by Food Network /

When Guy Fieri revealed that Tournament of Champions III would see the number of chefs doubled from 16 to 32, it guaranteed two things. First, we were going to see a lot of new faces that Food Network fans might not be familiar with. And second, some fan favorites might be in trouble.

Week 3 proved both of those things true in a night that saw the brackets get a major shake-up. In many ways, Tournament of Champions III may go down as the series that saw a new wave of chefs make their mark on Food Network and take no prisoners while doing so.

Ladies and gentlemen, things in the arena just got very real.

For Week 3 Fieri mixed things up for the judging, bringing in a trio of culinary superstars that had many of the competitors picking their jaws up off the floor. First was Traci Des Jardins, one of the most respected restaurateurs in California, followed by Lorena Garcia who competed on Top Chef Masters. Finally there was Eric Ripert, who runs the legendary French seafood restaurant Le Bernardin.

Battle 1
No. 2 seed Antonia Lofaso vs No. 7 seed Joe Sasto
Randomizer: Flank Steak/Asparagus/Drum Grater/Smashed/30 Minutes

This was Lofaso’s third time competing on Tournament of Champions and after coming so very close the first two times, every indication was that this might be her year. She came into Round 1 confident and the overwhelming favorite to beat newcomer Sasto, a Top Chef alum who specialized in Italian cuisine.

The Randomizer must have been feeling generous because at first glance, it wasn’t that bad. Steak and asparagus is a classic combination and while smashed may seem like an issue, it turned out to be anything but.

Lofaso went with African flavors, creating a sliced flank steak with an asparagus and radish chimichurri. While she received high marks for the presentation and taste, both Des Jardins and Garcia had problems finding the asparagus.

By contrast, Sasto’s dish was very asparagus forward, marinating his flank steak and serving it with glazed asparagus and sunchoke rosti. While Ripert didn’t think the rosti worked, all three judges had nothing but glowing comments about everything else.

Which is why Sasto earned one of the biggest upsets on the tournament so far, sending a visibly upset Lofaso home with an 82-80 win.

Which chefs went home during Week 3 of Tournament of Champions III?

Battle 2
No. 3 seed Shirley Chung vs No. 6 seed Marcel Vigneron
Randomizer: Chicken Legs/Portobello Mushrooms/Air Popcorn Machine/Pickled/30 Minutes

Vigneron returns to competition after skipping Tournament of Champions II, while this is the first time Chung has entered the arena of battle. Both are noted West Coast chefs, with Chung considered by many to be the queen of dumplings.

One of the highlights of the night was her reaction to the hot air popcorn popper. She literally had no clue what it was or how it worked, which made for some great comedy. However, both chefs found a solid use for the curveball, with Vigneron making a popcorn polenta while Chung used it to toast almonds.

Vigneron went with a classic fried chicken served with grilled Portobello mushrooms and various pickled vegetables. The issue was that due to him waiting to get the chicken into the fryer, parts of it was undercooked when served to the judges. A big no-no.

Chung’s King Pao Chicken Stir-Fry was a big hit and since it was cooked all the way, it came as no surprise that she got the victory. However, the 83-74 final score was as close to a blowout as we’ve seen this season and came as a bit of a surprise.

Battle 3
No. 4 seed Karen Akunowicz vs No. 5 seed Justin Sutherland
Randomizer: Ham/Artichoke Hearts/Frozen Drink Maker/Glazed/30 Minutes

Switching to the East Coast, the third match of the night saw a pair of new additions to the tournament duke it out for the chance to face the winner of the Main Event of the evening. Both Akunowicz and Sutherland came into the battle sounding confident, but that was put to the test once the randomizer had its way.

Ham was bad enough, but add a frozen drink maker and it becomes the worst combination of the night. The challenge would be what to do with the ham, which was already cooked and very salty, and then somehow combine that with the drink maker.

Sutherland went French, making a Croque Monsieur with an Artichoke Mornay. He used the drink maker essentially as a blender in the making of the mornay. On the other side of the kitchen Akunowicz made a Ham Steak Milanese with Yuzu-Glazed Artichokes. She also used the drink maker to create the glaze for her artichokes.

In the end the judges felt that the artichokes were MIA in Sutherland’s dish, and since it was on the Randomizer that meant that Karen Akunowicz walked away with a 84-77 win and a date with the winner of …

Main Event
No. 1 seed Darnell Ferguson vs No. 8 seed Aarthi Sampath
Randomizer: Skirt Steak/Beets/Electric Peeler/Rolled/30 Minutes

Ferguson enters Tournament of Champions III having earned the right to be a No. 1 seed after his now legendary defeat of No. 1 seed Alex Guarnaschelli in Season 1 and making it to the Final Four in Season 2. Sampath comes in as an No. 8 seed after winning the Guy’s Grocery Games play-in tournament.

For some reason from the moment Fieri said “Go” I was worried that Ferguson might be in trouble. Every season a No. 1 seed falls to a No. 8 and if any battle could see that happen it was this one. Sampath came in with a chip on her shoulder and a fire to win, similar to how Ferguson came into the first season of Tournament of Champions.

And things only appeared to get worse from there. While Sampath seemed to have a clear vision for her dish, a Rolled Skirt Steak with Yogurt Rice and Beet Chips, by contrast Ferguson seemed to be making it up as he went along, almost forgetting to use the electric peeler.

The result was the biggest upset of the tournament as Sampath earned a two-point victory over the No. 1 seed, 86-84. She bested the Super Chef on both Taste and Presentation, ending his dream of winning Tournament of Champions III.

Next. Top Chef: A preview of Last Chance Kitchen. dark

What did you think of Week 2 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.