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Is Superchef Grudge Match a super new Food Network competition?

Is Superchef Grudge Match a super new Food Network competition?
Darnell Ferguson hosts Superchef Grudge Match

So many of Food Network’s competitions use the same ingredients, with slightly different twists on slightly different sets. Sometimes it’s the same people, and sometimes even the same exact sets. The challenge is to take all of that and turn it into something that feels new.

The ads I saw for Food Network’s newest competition, Superchef Grudge Match, did not feel new. It seemed like another remix: showdowns between chefs who’ve faced each other before on Food Network competitions, like Antonia Lofaso facing off against Jet Tila in a rematch of their Tournament of Champions battle. That was great, but why are we seeing it again outside of TOC?

But Superchef Grudge Match surprised me with its first episode, which not just a copy/paste from TOC, in part because it featured far less familiar chefs.

In the second match of the hour, food truck owner and Chopped champion Robyn Almodovar was facing off against her former apprentice, Zach Roth. She wants him to acknowledge her role in his career; he says “working with Robyn was an absolute nightmare.”

Then the trash-talking went deeper: Robyn calls Zach “a snot-nose little kid, crying, calling out from work” who she still drove to and from work, and bought dinners for, and then Zach starts listing the physical and emotional damage Robyn did to him: “the burns from the thrown pans, the cuts from the thrown knives, the thrown-away prep.”

We’re in new territory here, with Superchef Grudge Match living up to two-thirds of its name right away.

Darnell Ferguson fist bumps Jet Tila to his left, as Antonia Lofaso stands to his right.
Superchef Grudge Match host Darnell Ferguson welcomes Jet Tila before his battle with Antonia Lofaso

After these accusations, Superchef Grudge Match quickly returns to the food, rather than exploring, say, the role of mentors and the abusive culture that was accepted as the norm in kitchens for far too long. That makes sense; after all, there’s an actual competition to get to.

The trash talk, however, continues, and is more acidic here, and a little acid certainly changes the flavor of the show without making it unpalatable.

“I don’t know if Chris even cooks any more,” Wes Lieberher says in the first match of that episode. Chris Oh responds, “I’m about to cook his ego and his soul.”

How real are these grudges? They don’t come across as fake and forced or staged, though the chefs’ repetition of the same phrases again and again suggest they’re being coached to hammer home one idea.

Even with the Robyn and Zach’s grudge, it quickly gets repetitive, as we constantly here them say the same thing again and again. I can imagine the network note: It’s been at least 30 seconds since I’ve heard why they have a grudge and I’ve already forgotten it. Can we add another soundbite here?

I’ll be curious to see how grudge-y the competitions between Food Network personalities get; after all, they all already compete against each other so regularly that the phrase “friendly competition” contains too much distance to apply here.

The grudges are, for our purposes here, settled with a single dish cooked in 30 minutes, which makes the show move quickly. Two separate grudges and matches are featured in each hour-long episode.

The mystery ingredients come from the two chefs: each brings something to try to trip the other up, and then they both have to use those two things in their dish. It’s a clever way to integrate that familiar component and make it work thematically.

The winner gets $10,000—and the other chef’s favorite knife, which of course is probably not their favorite knife, since they’re putting it up as collateral in a competition.

Darnell Ferguson posing with his hands clasped in front of him, and the metal judges table behind him with the words Super and Chef visible
Darnell Ferguson, host of Food Network’s Superchef Grudge Match (Photo by Rob Pryce/Food Network)

Superchef Grudge Match’s name comes from Darnell “SuperChef” Ferguson’s nickname, which I’d forgotten was his nickname, even though he has worn it on hats and it’s literally the name of his website,

Darnell is a terrific TV personality, who’s been a great competitor to watch ever since his first appearance a few years ago on Ultimate Thanksgiving Challenge, and seems very comfortable in front of the camera.

As a host, eh, not yet. His hosting is hesitant and stiff, even when he’s trying to energize the crowd or announcing the winner. Like a child actor, he frequently seems to be looking the wrong direction (at a teleprompter? a producer?).

Curiously, the editors are constantly cutting away from him, and using audio that sounds like ADR. I’m not sure if it’s nerves or something else.

I am, however, thrilled Food Network is using its roster of chef talent for new show hosting gigs instead of just giving us more Bobby Flay and Guy Fieri, because enough already.

The specter of Guy Fieri is here, though: his company co-produces the show, and its logo is on the wall, while his disembodied voice introduces Darnell.

In many ways, it feels like Superchef Grudge Match was a side project during Tournament of Champions: the set has the same blues and purples as the Tournament of Champions, and looks like a corner of the TOC set that was fenced off with, uh, actual fences. The audience bleachers are now much closer to the action.

The judges seem like they’ve wandered over from Tournament of Champions and, well, Superchef Grudge Match itself. Antonia Lofaso and Brian Malarkey judged episode three, which previewed Sunday night, and will be competitors in the timeslot premiere (Tuesdays at 10).

While more shows have been moving toward blind judging, which I have some feelings about, this show does not: the judges watch the cooking, and the chefs introduce their own dishes.

The judges do, however, score numerically, and I spotted the scorecard in one shot, with 40 points available in three categories: taste (20), use of ingredients (10), and presentation (10). It’s curious that the mystery ingredients don’t get more weight.

Of the eight episodes announced so far, which are airing out of order, there are many Food Network personalities:

  • Episode 1: Nikki Dinki vs. Damaris Phillips and Tom Pizzica vs. Aarti Sequeira
  • Episode 2: Antonia Lofaso vs. Jet Tila and Carlos Anthony vs. Brian Malarkey
  • Episode 3: Chris Oh vs. Wes Lieberher and Robyn Almodovar vs. Zack Roth
  • Episode 4: Christian Petroni vs. Maneet Chauhan and Justin Warner vs. Simon Majundar
  • Episode 5: Aaron May vs. Ilan Hall and Davonte Bolden vs. Randy Pasch
  • Episode 6: Tracey Shepos-Cenami vs. Crista Luedtke and Jonathan Stranger vs. Kevin Lee 
  • Episode 7: Marcel Vigneron vs. Shirley Chung and Adam Pawlak vs. Declan Horgan
  • Episode 9: Shota Nakajima vs. Stephanie Izard and Drew Bent vs. Claudia Sandoval

That will give us a Hell’s Kitchen match in episode 7, and a Guys Grocery Games team facing off in episode 5.

Based on the first episode to air, episode three, I’m really looking forward to the match-ups between people I don’t know as well.

Maybe I’ll be surprised and the matches between the people we’ve already seen compete many times before won’t be as same-samey as they seem. And maybe casting them will help attract people to the show and allow it to grow as a showcase for lesser-known chefs.

Even with grudges taking center stage, there’s room for talent and cooking to break through—and perhaps even for some true surprises, such as when Robyn Almodovar and Zach Roth’s match ends with them both making incredibly similar dishes, an unexpected and quite delightful illustration of how they have more in common than they thought.

Superchef Grudge Match

The grudge matches bring some curious new ingredients to otherwise standard Food Network cooking competition face-offs. B

What works for me:

  • Actual grudge matches
  • The trash talk
  • Numerical scoring

What could be better:

  • Fewer Food Network faces—and Grudge Match judges!—competing
  • The repetition of the grudges
  • Darnell’s hosting

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

Discussion: your turn

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Happy discussing!

Pam S

Wednesday 5th of April 2023

I can't stand "SUPER CHEF GRUDGE MATCH"!!!! Why mess with what works? Why is GGG not airing on Wednesdays? TOC I like but Guy should get rid of the the rest. It's getting really old. I'm back to my book!


Monday 3rd of April 2023

Sorry , just not a fan. Seems like the same ol' same ol'. The constant commercials for it and the pop ups while im watching another show is ridiculous.


Saturday 11th of March 2023

I absolutely agree with all of your critique of SuperChefs Grudge Match. Especially the repetition of the same chefs, likely friends and favorites of the producers. The show needs some realiignment. A few familiar names are a draw but not the entire stable is needed in order to make room for exposing talented new chefs. Alas the host, Darnell Fergusen is lackluster. Needs a co-host.


Sunday 26th of February 2023

I don't care for the show at all. I'm constantly reminded of Tournament of Champions because it looks like it's been filmed in the same kitchen set. I don't like that it's not blind judged. When you see two Food Network chef competing and can determine the winner before they even start cooking based on the Food Network judges, you know it's not a fair judge. I've seen two partial episodes (I seem to turn off the show after the first competition), correctly predicted both winners, and watched as the dish with the most negative critiques won. And that's not even considering that these Food Network chefs always seem like good friends, yet this show illustrates that they hold grudges against each other. That's confusing to an average Joe who's just watching the various Food Network shows.


Monday 3rd of April 2023

Absolutely agree.

Chuck S

Thursday 9th of February 2023

I think Darnell is great and I am glad he's being given a shot at hosting. I liked thw episode and I will watch it when I can.