The days when Food Network was a prime-time destination for culinary training are as long gone as the days when TLC was a station that featured educational programming.
We live in an era characterized by reality television culinary competitions that come in various flavors. The Tournament of Champions represents the best of what Food Network has to offer right now in multiple ways.
As the third edition of the Tournament of Champions III quickly proves, both the tournament and its players are exceptional cooks. This is a food reality TV competition for those who regularly compete in food reality TV competitions.
The Success of the Tournament of Champions
Several factors contribute to the success of the Tournament of Champions, which begins with its beautifully and flawlessly basic format:
A bracketed competition with two chefs competing for head-to-head; ingredients, methods, and time that are chosen at random; blind judging and numerical scoring; and a total of four judges.
It is the fairest and most reliable system for a talent competition that I am aware of. The judges are entirely in the dark about who participates in the tournament.
The system also delivers fantastic cuisine and entertainment, from the unexpected curveballs thrown by the randomizer to the tension belt by the chefs as their food is assessed from their trailers.
While the number of competitors in TOC 3 has more than doubled (now 32 chefs, rather than 16) and the prize money has increased to $100,000 (which currently resides on the set like Survivor: Borneo's treasure box), the competition's concept has remained constant.
Justin Warner and Simon Majumdar are still taking notes and presenting dishes to the judges; Hunter Fieri is still wandering about backstage, looking for a position where his discomfort in front of the camera and stilted delivery would not be seen as much as his father.
Guy Fieri is still the host, of course, and as he did on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, he focuses on the talent rather than himself, which is something I wish more television chefs/hosts would do.
Because he's virtually the face of the network throughout this period of contests and even got his start on another Food Network competition, Food Network Star. He'll be an excellent MC for TOC.
While The Challenge continues to expand, creating a realm that includes its participants and those who appear on other reality television series, the Tournament of Champions has evolved into a venue where reality TV contestants may participate in the competition.
Tournament of Champions Overshadows Other Food Networks
The Food Network has for years disregarded other networks' cooking competitions, keeping them off the resumes of its judges and contestants, apparently under the impression that merely mentioning another show would somehow offer free exposure to its competitors and drive people to desert the channel but has finally and correctly acknowledged when participants come from other series, whether it's Bravo's Top Chef or Netflix's Final Table, and this is a welcome development.
Even the mere mention of other programs enhances the credibility of the Tournament of Champions, simply because TOC becomes the site where other shows' contestants—and even winners!—I want to participate, hence increasing the credibility of TOC.
Mini-competitions are also allowed, as seen by Kelsey Barnard Clark, the Top Chef 16 champion, competing against Eric Adjepong, the runner-up, in the first episode of the season.
Even though the Top Chef finalists are incredibly skilled, they are largely unknown. The contrary is true in Tournament of Champions, which features great chefs who are well-known to us due to their performances on reality television series like Top Chef.
This framework allows those who are the most miniature well-known chefs to become more prominent by their personality in the kitchen or through the judges' evaluations of their cuisine, which can happen for various reasons. In the past two seasons, an eighth-seeded chef has defeated a number-one seeded chef in the competition.
It was a play-in competition between three chefs on last week's Guy's Grocery Games, with the winner receiving an invitation to compete on TOC III, which acted as both an advertisement for TOC and a chance for the winner.
I believe there is an extra chance to include a few winners from other championship-style series, such as the Holiday Baking Championship, Chopped Champions, or Channel 4's The Great British Bake-Off, into the mix. However, the current strategy, which is rarely used, is the most effective.
This casting ensures that one exceptional, well-known chef is sent home practically every round. The structure ensures that numerous individuals win and lose in each show's episode. It's a tight show with little fluff, so it's worth seeing.
Instead of creating season after season, Food Network has correctly decided to focus on a single spring tournament, which helps to elevate the whole experience. It would lose part of its appeal if it were to be shown every week, like Guy's Grocery Games or Chopped.
Culinary Competition Concept
Host Guy Fieri introduces the tournament of Champions as “the greatest culinary competition in the world” at the start of season three, but that claim does not convince me. However, when Marcel Vigneron refers to it as “the largest title in culinary contests,” I believe he is onto something. Among culinary competitions, it is the only one that features such a broad slate of reality TV culinary contestants, which makes winning a meta-victory.
After seeing the Tournament of Champions III, I was persuaded that Netflix's upcoming relaunch of Iron Chef is entirely unneeded after watching the show. The food industry stars already have TOC, a showcase in which some of the top culinary reality TV stars compete against one another on Food Network's most popular channel.