The inside scoop on Food Network's Tournament of Champions from last year's winner Tiffani Faison
Food Network’s “Tournament of Champions” season IV kicks off this Sunday. The show, hosted by Guy Fieri, pits 32 renowned chefs against each other in bracket-style, single-elimination rounds. Last season, Boston-based chef Tiffani Faison came out on top.
Faison proved her culinary chops and brought home the $100,000 prize. She also appeared on “Top Chef,” “Chopped” and “Guy’s Grocery Games.” She’s a four-time James Beard Award nominee, owner of the resturant group Big Heart Hospitality and she runs five popular restaurants in Massachusetts.
5 questions with Tiffani Faison about ‘Tournament of Champions’ and the food industry
How do competition shows benefit the food industry?
“I think whenever we engage in any sort of activity or competition that gets people thinking more about food and thinking about our restaurants and thinking about how we eat and cooking at home or cooking with us, just generally thinking about food in a different way, I think that’s a win.
“We keep upping the game. There’s a running joke that they’re going to have to bungee in from cranes to get our ingredients.”
What is the randomizer? And the strangest thing you’ve had to make from it?
“The randomizer is it’s what chefs’ nightmares are made of. It’s five different categories: produce, protein, style, equipment, time. Sometimes those change, sometimes they don’t, and it gets increasingly harder as the rounds go on. And so the competition is really you against yourself.
“It’s not necessarily just one weird thing. It’s a combo. So when it lands on all five things, you have to come up with a dish that not only incorporates but celebrates and makes those things very obvious in your dish. There’s no communication between you and the judges. It’s blind judging, which I think is one of the things that makes this competition so unique and so special.”
What is it like to hear the judges discuss the food without knowing who made what?
“If water torture were culinary torture, like if someone held you down and forced you to listen to other people talk about your food.
“It’s so hard. And they’re also friends. They’re mentors. They’re heroes of mine.”
How does it feel to win ‘Tournament of Champions’?
“The best. All of those times people say, ‘I’m just happy to be in the room.’ And, ‘it’s so great to just be here.’ All of those things are true. Nothing feels good like winning.
“You just even talking about the tournament in the intro, my hands are sweating. It’s hard. It’s the hardest culinary competition on the planet.”
How is the food and restaurant industry recovering from the pandemic?
“A lot of cities have really come raging back in great ways. I think some cities have been slower to come back. I think it really is just city and neighborhood specific.
“The job of a chef is so wildly different now. I’m still a mentor and I’m still a chef and I’m still cooking my restaurants, and now these other things that I’ve been given the opportunity to do. Sometimes they’re nerve-wracking and sometimes they’re great fun. And it’s up to me now to also figure out the landscape of my year and what makes sense to say ‘yes’ to and what makes sense to say, ‘No, thank you. That’s not for me.’”
Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Grace Griffin adapted it for the web.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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