East Coast and West Coast chefs are going head to head in the newest season of Food Network’s “Tournament of Champions.”
Hosted by Guy Fieri, “Tournament of Champions II” will have 16 chefs square off in a bracket-style cook-off in each 90-minute episode.. Fieri says that the East Coast vs West Coast lineup fell into place pretty naturally.
“As we started putting the chefs together, it was amazing to see that we were seeing two main epicenters of food in terms of styles, methods, technique and ingredients,” said Fieri. “It put itself into place. We had everyone weighing in on who should be in the top 16, and it organically happened.”
Fieri says that “Tournament of Champions II” pays homage to shows like “Iron Chef” that really laid the groundwork for competition food shows. One of the key aspects of the show is blind judging, so those who are on the judges’ panel are able to vote objectively no matter who is competing. Chefs enter this blind competition not knowing who their opponents will be, or what cooking challenges they will face.
Part of what sets “Tournament of Champions II” apart is the randomizer, which assigns the chefs a protein, produce, equipment, cooking style, and time.
“We made it so not one competition is ever the same. With the randomizer, you are never going to end up with those odds again,” said Fieri. “The chefs can’t prepare themselves ahead of time. The timing can make you or break you. The bracket competition also makes it so it’s one and done, or win one and move on. It’s going to have people on the edge of their seats.”
An important aspect of the show that is close to Fieri’s heart is that the show gives back to struggling restaurants during COVID-19. Each time a chef wins a round, $10,000 is donated in their name to their favorite local restaurant, which is not their own, that is in need during the pandemic.
Fieri, who has raised money himself for restaurants in need, felt it was important to help other establishments with this new season of “Tournament of Champions II” because he saw how chefs on the show, as well as their friends in the industry, were struggling to stay afloat.
“We were getting into the studio and some chefs were going through turmoil, and the same for their friends’ restaurants. So many were unemployed,” said Fieri. “I called the president at Food Network, Courtney White, and said we had to do something. We have people coming in to compete, but restaurants are hurting and closing — they are stepping away from the industry and doing a competition. We need to do more and raise awareness, so let’s have the chefs play on behalf of a restaurant they were fans of, and they end up telling their stories. And if they won, they gave $10,000 in their name. We’ve given out over $250,000 in total and highlighted so many places without exposure, a little bit of buzz goes a long way.”
Because the stakes are higher, Fieri says that there is a lot to look forward to in this new season.
“Upsets, pissed off chefs, surprise judges, crazy, crazy randomizers,” said Fieri. “And when I say pissed off chefs, there’s nothing they can do about it. Everything they are working for is on the line. Simon Majumdar and Justin Warner and I do an aftershow to recap the show and we have the chefs come on and talk to us. It’s a whole evening of entertainment — it’s going to grab people.”
Though Fieri can’t say if East Coast or West Coast has the best cuisine in the nation, or even by region in the United States, because every food experience can be spectacular if surrounded by the right people. However, one thing Fieri is excited to see Indian food grow in popularity.
“I’m a huge fan of Indian food, not everyone really understands it. I’ve been slowly integrating into my family and friends,” said Fieri. “It’s one of the last explored cuisines in this country. Some people may read this and say I’m crazy and that it’s always been around, but it’s really starting to get recognition.”
One of Fieri’s latest ventures is Guy Fieri’s Flavortown Kitchen, a virtual dining concept that is delivery-only — there are no physical locations for dine-in or pick-up.
“The restaurant industry is always adapting, it happened to everyone this year. We had to make lemonade out of lemons, a phrase which I think was started in the restaurant industry,” said Fieri. “Watching the industry pivot and having closed a bunch of restaurants myself, it was difficult, but it caught everyone on the reality that we need to do delivery.”
Guy Fieri’s Flavortown Kitchen operates out of existing restaurant kitchens, allowing restaurateurs to add a new source of revenue without impacting the operation. The online menu, which was curated by Fieri, includes appetizers, entrees featuring veggie, fish, and chicken options, burgers, sandwiches, salads, desserts, and more, including some popular dishes from his eateries like the Bacon Mac ‘N Cheeseburger and Flavortown Fries.
“Delivery is the new medium. We started to look at these businesses and thought, how can we keep these people working?” said Fieri. “You can’t have two concepts, having Guy’s Kitchen and Bar food at an Italian restaurant, but if we have the staff and the talent, why not make a concept that can be delivered?”
Guy Fieri’s Flavortown Kitchen has grown to have locations in 25 states with 175 locations and will launch in March. Beginning on March 7, those who order Guy Fieri’s Flavortown Kitchen will be offered access to discovery+ for one month, compliments of Fieri himself.
“We’re keeping people working and keeping people moving. Delivery programs are what we have to work with, we might as well take advantage of it,” said Fieri. “This is just the beginning, it’s going to get bigger and more exciting.”
“Tournament of Champions II” premieres on Food Network at 8 p.m. ET/PT on March 7 and is available for streaming on discovery+. For more information about Guy Fieri’s Flavortown Kitchen or to order, visit guysflavortownkitchen.com. The Flavortown App is available for download via Apple Store or Google Play.