The question going into Tournament of Champions season 3’s finale on Food Network: Would Brooke Williamson become the second winner in the show’s three-season history? Or would Tobias Dorzon, Tiffani Faison, or Jet Tila take the win and the $100,000 prize?
The finale had three battles, with the final battle taking place the day after the semifinals (in past seasons, the final battle was filmed on the same day as the semi-final competitions, as I reported about in my behind-the-scenes piece).
It also added a fourth judge, Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, which meant the final two chefs had to cook an extra plate of food. The Randomizer’s produce wheel was also replaced with a mystery ingredient.
Even though TOC3 had double the amount of chefs, it was just eight episodes, one more than last season, and all of them move really swiftly, which is one of the show’s many charms.
While I would love more, I also think its limited nature makes it special; I don’t need it to turn into another Chopped.
When Tournament of Champions began three years ago, in the early days of the pandemic, it felt new and different, thanks to its caliber of chefs; the simple but effective competition structure; and its judging.
Throughout all three seasons, Brooke Williamson has absolutely dominated, going into the finale with a tournament-best 10 wins, and making it into the finals for the third year in a row. Meanwhile, Jet Tila was in the semi-finals for the second year in a row.
Even though some of the same chefs have returned, the talent and competition have increased.
Now there are rematches, like Tiffani Faison versus Amanda Freitag, and Michael Voltaggio versus Brooke Williamson, and Brooke Williamson versus Jet Tila.
(While I like those rematches, I’d be up for the show discarding the east versus west conceit in order to mix up the returning chefs in future seasons.)
I was going to refer to Michael vs. Brooke as a “grudge match”—she’s now beat him every season—but that doesn’t fit what’s happening here, because while Michael certainly wanted to win, they’re all very collegial.
Whether the chefs are friends, strangers, or have met before on TOC, they’re effectively competing against themselves, trying to earn as many points as possible from the judges.
Tournament of Champions 3’s winner
TOC’s season-three finale had three-match-ups. First, the semi-finals:
- #1 Brooke Williamson vs. #1 Jet Tila
- #7 Tobias Dorzon vs. #3 Tiffani Faison
In two highly unscientific polls I conducted, Brooke was the clear favorite to win, while in terms of who people wanted to win, Brooke, Jet, and Tiffani were pretty evenly split, with Tobias—who’s far less well-known—not far behind.
The finale had multiple possibilities for records.
For the first time, there were two men in the final four. Would a male chef win? Top Chef, the gold standard of cooking competitions, has had male winners in two-thirds of its seasons, but it is not judged blind like TOC is. Hmm.
Would Brooke become the first two-time winner? Would Tiffani Faison overcome her second-place finishes that go all the way back to Top Chef season 1 in 2006?
In the first round, Brooke and Jet had to use both blowfish tails and salsify, and use a combi oven and quenelle as the style.
Brooke scored 84 and Jet scored 82. “You cooked the better dish,” he told her.
Next, Tobias and Tiffani had to use goose and bergamot, while using liquid nitrogen to make a “velvety” dish.
Tobias scored 84 and Tiffani scored 91.
That led to a final battle between two Top Chef alumni. “Oh come on! Really?!” Tiffani said when she found out she’d be facing Brooke.
TOC 3 comes down to Tiffani Faison vs. Brooke Williamson
The randomizer chose rabbit and nattō for the final battle, and Tiffani and Brooke had to use an anti-griddle and cooking one ingredient three ways, with 60 minutes.
“This is a very difficult judgment,” Morimoto said after tasting both Brooke and Tiffani’s plates.
In the end, it came down to two points: 90 vs. 92. Tiffani beat Brooke with one point in taste and one point in use of the randomizer.
“I have this inability to break through,” Tiffani told the camera, in addition to talking about her professional and personal challenges, including divorcing her wife. “I’ve taken second a lot.”
Tiffani made TOC history as its third winner, and made her own history by winning a competition—and a big one at that.
Three very different chefs have now won Tournament of Champions, and that’s made for three thrilling finales and also makes for even more-exciting future seasons and rematches.
This really is Food Network’s best competition, the Super Bowl of cooking competitions, drawing people who’ve competed on, judged, and even hosted a wide variety of cooking reality TV shows, and I can’t wait for next year’s edition.