Guy Fieri is associated with many of Food Network’s shows, but it is the new season of the one he is hosting, “Tournament of Champions”, which he seems to be especially passionate about.
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Fieri discussed surprises of the tournament, which airs at 7 p.m. on Sundays, but also gave details about his journey of getting to know the Chicago cuisine, also saying that supporting local restaurants, mainly during the COVID-19 pandemic, is extremely important.
A “randomizer” makes each match different
Last year’s “tournament of Champions winner, “top chef” Brooke Williamson, returned for this year’s contest, in which 16 chefs will be involved in head-to-head battles.
A “randomizer” makes each match different, determining not only the protein and products that must be used, but also which equipment is to be used and how much time is needed to cook the specific type of dish chosen. A panel of esteemed food experts will judge the dishes on taste, execution, and presentation, not knowing who made each dish. The tournament winner receives the championship belt, a new SUV and a mystery prize.
“It’s crazy. I designed the show. I set the brackets with the Food Network and my production team. I host the show. I screened all the shows getting ready for them to air, and I gotta tell you, you’re going to see upsets. You’re going to see tears. You’re going to see pissed-off chefs. You’re going to see amazed judges. You’re going to see a terrible, goddamn randomizer. You’re going to see it all”, Fieri told the Tribune.
Season 2 premiered on March 7 with four chefs vying for the eighth seed spot in the West Coast bracket. The episode scheduled to air Sunday follows the clash to represent the eighth seed in the East Coast bracket. The other 14 slots were preselected, and those chefs play on upcoming episodes.
This year’s competition is once again an East Coast/West Coast showdown. But what about the Midwest? “It never was intended to be an East Coast/West Coast thing. That’s really 100% true. When we started bringing the names in and the chefs in, for who was going to be in this competition, it happened to be that they became East Coast/West Coast,” Fieri said.
“When we did ‘TOC II,’ we did … say OK, we’re going to keep this East Coast/West Coast because people like it, and the East Coast/West Coast chefs do have kind of a battle. … But what I really want it to become is I do want it to become regional, where they start coming and representing their area and their background and their history and their culture and their food styles.”
The competing chefs win help for chosen restaurants
The chefs play on behalf of a restaurant of their choice. Food Network said it is donating $10,000 to the restaurant selected by the winner of each round, which Fieri said was a last-minute decision.
“This year we did something really special. I always give big thank yous. I get to play in the greatest league in the world, and my commissioner is Courtney White. She’s our president of the Food Network. I’m always pushing the boundaries of what I want to do and how I want to do it,” Fieri said.
“And I called her 12 hours before we went on set to shoot ‘TOC II,’ and I said, Listen, we’ve got restaurants that are going out of business. We got chefs that have restaurants that are going out of business. We have chefs that are friends with restaurants that are hurting. I said, We need to do something and recognize all these restaurants … And so we came up with the idea of having the chefs play on behalf of a restaurant when they did their competition.”
According to some sources, Fieri has helped raise over $20 million to assist restaurant workers in need through a relief fund in partnership with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, has been one of the best advocates for the restaurant industry amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Following rules and regulations are not always easy, as numbers show. A total of twelve bars and restaurants were issued citations for violating COVID-19 regulations in January only, two more than in December 2020. Although people were supposed to be used to social distancing, hand sanitizing, respecting capacity limits, and mask-wearing after doing all these things for almost a year, the truth is clients are tired of it, and there are as many restaurant owners who have decided to ignore the guidelines as there are who have chosen to implement and enforce them daily.
Fieri had not been to Chicago before ‘Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives’
The Windy City has plenty of affordable world-class restaurants where you can throw an unforgettable party.
Although he had never been to Chicago before starting the “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” back in 2007, where he has featured more than 30 Chicago-area restaurants, Fieri says he almost lost his mind when he first tasted the Alsip restaurant’s homemade Italian beef sandwich slow-cooked in a pizza oven, on one of the early episodes which highlighted the now-closed south suburban drive-in Frosted Mug.
“I had never been to Chicago before I started doing ‘Triple DDD,’” Fieri said. “All you do is see it in the movies. Or see ‘Saturday Night Live,’ (the) ‘cheezborger, cheezborger’ (sketch). The first time I had a hot Italian beef, I just thought I was going to lose my mind.”
Fieri took part in the NBA All-Star Game festivities at Wintrust Arena last year and called Chicago “one of my favorite food cities.” Several Chicago restaurants were spotlighted on a spate of 2018 “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” episodes. Area restaurateurs told the Tribune before the pandemic they saw a tremendous increase in foot traffic when their businesses first appeared on the show and when those episodes re-aired on TV.
‘Ghost kitchens’ from the suburbs might expand into Chicago
The terms “ghost kitchen” and “virtual restaurant” have been more commonplace than before, thanks to the pandemic. But when you think about what they are, and how handy they can be for those who are either in lockdown or have chosen to self-isolate, both concepts fit into the current landscape of dining quite nicely.
Fieri recently launched Guy Fieri’s Flavortown Kitchen, a series of delivery-only outlets which work out of existing restaurants and kitchens in more than 30 states. One can find on the menus items such as cheesesteak egg rolls, a bacon mac n’ cheese burger with Fieri’s signature donkey sauce, and Cajun chicken Alfredo. Diners can order online through guysflavortownkitchen.com or via third-party delivery apps.
Now there are only three Illinois locations — in suburban Lombard, Orland Park, and Wheeling, but, when asked about bringing his “ghost kitchen” concept to Chicago, Fieri talked about expansion plans.
“We’ve had great success with it, and the great thing is, a lot of restaurants that aren’t able to do the volume of business they want to do in the front of the house because of COVID restraints are now able to open up and really keep the team members working and keep the business going by doing delivery,” Fieri said.
“I don’t like to let the cat out of the bag, but we’ve had some great expansion and really great response. We’re in about 25 major cities right now. There’s about 50 to go. So I would anticipate, no promises, but I would anticipate something coming your way.”