Tobias Dorzon Dishes On Guy Fieri, The Best Fast Food, And Tournament Of Champions - Exclusive Interview

Few chefs have had a life experience like Tobias Dorzon. According to Andscape, Dorzon switched over from professional football to professional cooking in the pursuit of seeking "more success." Dorzon came from a family with a long history of cooking and started attending culinary school back in 2012. After switching over from football, Dorzon went on to establish his own catering company that has worked with celebrities and athletes, and after some years in the cooking world, Dorzon started drawing in a ton of attention and acclaim, per CNBC. The chef made waves after appearing on "Guy's Grocery Games" and started taking off as a standout television chef.

The chef, who now plans to make an appearance on Guy Fieri's "Tournament of Champions," sat down with Mashed for an exclusive interview. Dorzon delved into his relationship with food, his approach to cooking, his favorite Guy Fieri memories, and how he plans to reinvigorate the culinary world.

Dorzon's experience with Guy Fieri

Compared to Guy's Grocery Games, how does this compare to your previous experiences with Guy?

The show [is much] different because, for the show, this is the biggest culinary competition. This is not Guy's. This is the best of "Top Chef," the best of "MasterChef," the best of "Chopped," the best of "Guy's Grocery Games," [and] "Iron Chef." It's all of those people in one room. The show, and the nerves, and all that is a lot harder, but my relationship with Guy ... [he] is one of the main people on Food Network and he has a culinary battle show in "Guy's Grocery Game." He always wants shows like this. He wants his people from his show to show up and do good in the competition, because it makes it like, "Okay, clearly I push out high caliber chefs from my show."

[As for] my relationship with him, letting me know certain things and even him pushing the button for me to get on the show like that, I'm a young chef in the game as I've only been in the culinary world for ten years. My dad's the executive chef at the Pentagon. I've been around food basically my whole life, but [I'm also] battling chefs that have been in the culinary world for 25, two Michelin star restaurants, three Michelin star restaurants, James Beard Award winner.

Dorzon's rise through the cooking world

I'm a James Beard nominee chef. I've worked in two Michelin star restaurants, but haven't had one of my own yet. Having a relationship with him and him knowing exactly who I was as a chef, [I didn't previously have] the opportunity to be in those types of rooms.

He was somebody that he knew that if I was able to get in one of those rooms, he knew what I could do, and being on TLC really opened up the floodgate for the future of who Chef Tobias is. I tell people all the time, I feel the Black community knows, I feel I'm probably the biggest Black chef in the US. I feel strongly about that, and the culinary world of the Food Network really didn't know my story behind me. If you look on my Instagram, they see me with the athletes and the entertainers and they probably think ... I'm classically French trained. I trained overseas in Italy. Learning those types of things about me and learning that my culinary education is about as high as anybody, I think it helped with me going on the show, them learning about me, what I did on the show. Guy has really been the glue to put me on.

How Dorzon became friends with Guy Fieri

How'd you get to be so tight with Guy? What's the story behind that?

I've been on "Guy's Grocery Games" seven times and yeah, Guy's a sports guy himself. He likes sports. I'm an ex-football player. We were able to relate that. He really understood that I may be able to tap a market that hasn't been tapped ... [there aren't] too many Black chefs that can cross over and cook internationally, that can cook American cuisine to the tee. There's not too many white chefs that can cook soul food to the tee.

Not to say they can't, but I could do both on a high level, on a very, very high level and Guy really noticed that. Guy's literally one of my best friends, like the culinary mentor, but outside of culinary itself, walking me through certain situations like deals, endorsements, what not to take, what to take. He's one of those people that always is going to tell me the [truth].

Dorzon's impression of the celebrity food world

It's been like that from the day I met him. Him seeing who I actually was and knowing that, from [looking at me], it was going to be hard for me to get a look from the outer world of food, because ... this is the world we live in nowadays. They're typically not used to seeing somebody with tattoos and chains and dressed up in street clothes. They're not used to seeing that. He always tells me, the biggest thing about me is making food different. It's 2022. It's younger kids. A lot of kids don't even know who Bobby Flay is. They don't dress like Bobby Flay, so [it's important] for people and certain chefs to be able to look and see somebody that looked like them, somebody that dressed like them, but also is at the peak of his culinary education. 

I tell chefs, it's not always about what you can cook, but it's also about the rooms you can sit in. Can you sit in a room with Gordon Ramsay and be able to talk food at a high level, outside of being able to cook mac and cheese and your basics? Once I was able to establish myself in rooms like that, where my level of knowledge of culinary is the highest it can get. I think Guy started to understand that and felt it was time that he could start to put me in those rooms and feel confident that I could hold my own.

The biggest cooking hurdles

What were some of the biggest challenges to get to that point for you?

Changing my image a little bit [and] ... I don't want to say cooling down, [but] growing up as face of something. Food Network is a predominantly white network and I'm in the culinary [world]. If I want to be on that network, things like, if I make a dish and I'm saying like, "Can't wait for you guys to taste this s***," doing stuff like taking the word "s***" out. [I'm] growing up and it's fine. You got to do it eventually.

That's the thing where Guy being Guy, being part of the network still tells me things like, "You know you could, you don't have to be signed to the network. It's Netflix. Now it's Hulu, it's Peacock. Amazon, it's YouTube." There are now chefs out here that have chef shows on Netflix and they can completely be themselves, [100%], but Food Network is a family oriented network. Outside of it being young, old, Food Network is on the national network where you got a lot of families watching it. You got to restrain from, "Oh man, I'm about to cook this s*** up," or something like on Netflix, it wouldn't ... You could be cooking foie gras. If I was to say, "Yeah, we got a hell of a dish we cooking up tonight." it would be hard to express that version of yourself on Food Network, because of your actual following of people on Food Network.

Parallels between the NFL and cooking

Transitioning from professional football into the world of cooking — how did that work for you? What were the challenges?

I feel like football really was the key thing to make me who I am as a chef. That determination, football gives you that willpower, it gives you the never want to quit [mentality]. It gives you that status of ... Football players tend to be really competitive. It helps me be really competitive in the kitchen, [which helps with] these culinary battle shows, they're perfect for me, because I'm used to battling, I'm used to going out. I was able to transfer football, something that at one point in time, coming up, I was always the best at it. When you get to the NFL, it's a million of the best. I felt, at that time, that I wasn't the greatest at what I did.

So it was time to walk away from it. I felt something that I could be the greatest at was culinary, being raised around it. I used to cook in my dorms all the time and I felt like it was something that when it was time for me to actually make a transition in life, that was the best decision for me. Culinary school. I went to the Art Institute at first, tried that out, did that for a year. I ended up going over to Sicily and did that for six months to study fine dining. I always want to be the best at what it is. I think football, that mentality of football, of being resilient, really walked me through the days of culinary, where I was really about to say, "F*** it." That manpower of football really helped me get through those certain days in the culinary world.

How football can prepare chefs for competitions

When you were competing on the shows and stuff against the other chefs, was there anything that you had besides that competitive spirit from football that your competitors didn't have? A perspective or anything?

A lot of these chefs have been on battle shows before, but for me, me walking into TLC, it was almost like, I know what it is to be in a playoff. I know what it is to be a one-game elimination, those type of things, I feel if I never played football and I walked into a competition like that, not knowing what it feels like to get eliminated first round or something like that, I knew what was at stake. Where a lot of people know, some things, you can't teach in culinary battles. It's a one-round elimination. You come all the way out here with a chance to win $100,000 and the opportunity to say you're the best chef in America. And it's a one round elimination. That's a lot of pressure for a lot of people that sometimes is not normal to be able to handle.

The pressures of competitive cooking

A lot of people would break under that.

Trust me, I almost broke a couple times, so I know. It's a tough situation. Everybody on the show, if [they weren't] already friends, are friends now. I'm able to talk to Michael Valio on the phone every day, and Jeff Taylor, go to his restaurant, playing around in his kitchen, based off the show. To be able to have that [is great], but at the end of the day, $100,000 and a chance to say that you're the best chef in America is still a competition.

You have to be able to – football has helped me to be able to be like, now it's time to turn it on and go to work and do what you got to do. You can leave it open. That part of me, football was the blessing in that part where, okay, I had a lot of friends that played on different teams, but when we were playing against each other, it was time to go to work. We see each other after the show, but right now, it is time to lock in. I felt football definitely played a major part in my mental preparation, and all those sorts of things.

Dorzon's favorite ingredient

You made the transition to professional cooking in 2012, right?

2012. Yep. My last year.

It's been a decade now, with all this experience, have you gotten to the point where you could say, what's your favorite ingredient to use in the kitchen? Or the one thing you can't live without?

The one thing I know I can't live without in a kitchen is thyme and rosemary. I feel everything needs some type of fresh herb balance to it. It [doesn't take much] having a steak and basting the steak with fresh butter and fresh thyme and rosemary. Get those herbaceous flavors into your dishes. I feel they pretty much go with everything. They bring life into everything from food to drinks. They got drinks with rosemary in it, drinks with fresh thyme in it. When you're cooking food, you should always have that freshness of herbs in your dish to give that extra hint of flavor to all your dishes. One thing you're always going to see in my kitchen, if you walk into my kitchen, you open my refrigerator, it's going be some fresh thyme, some fresh herbs, and some fresh rosemary in there all the time. That's a no brainer.

Tobias Dorzon's favorite chefs

On the flip side of that too, if you could sit down to a nice meal at some point in time, do you have a bucket list cook that you'd want to have cook for you?

My idol was Anthony Bourdain. That was my guide. Somebody that, I felt what he did in being there, to go around the world and taste different food and accomplish what he's accomplished, that was my bucket lifts of chefs that one day [I wanted to] meet. Right, now my favorite chef right now outside of Guy is Jeff Taylor, and I'm infatuated with Asian food.

Do have particular dish that you would want to go and get from him?

I don't think I have a specific dish, because there's so many dishes that I feel like he can introduce to me, that he can twist in certain different ways that I didn't even know that they could be twisted into, as far as Asian fare, but he can literally do it all, Asian wise. From crispy rice to sushi, to dumplings, he's phenomenal at it. That's somebody that I feel like, you have to watch and actually see him in action to understand how great of a chef he is. He's a phenomenal chef. His flavor profile is impeccable. He's a great person, and he's actually beyond humble. That's the great thing about it.

Dorzon's celebrity chef fan moment

My favorite chef is Alex Guarnaschelli. She started following me on Instagram, and I really had a fan moment ... to see her follow me on Instagram and us talk back and forth on DMs and stuff, it's such an honor. If I had a chance to [have them cook for me], it'll either be her or Jeff.

Also on the flip side – did you have a favorite person that you've cooked for?

Outside of my girlfriend? Probably Bishop TD Jakes. I did his birthday in June. I did his birthday dinner at his church in June. And that was a one of the big, that was as big as it could for me. I mean, yeah. I pretty much cooked for everybody, but TD Jakes was somebody that was super big for me. Super big for me.

What'd you cook for him?

We did nicoise sea bass. We did crispy pork belly. We did braised short ribs. It was an impeccable birthday dinner.

Dorzon's celebrity bucket list dinners

Is there anyone else that you'd like to go, who could top that for you at this point? If you could go and serve them food?

I don't think there's anybody that could top it, but I do know it's a couple people. I still want to cook for Ellen. I still want to cook for Obama. I think Ellen and Obama are the two people right now that if I had a chance to cook for somebody right now, it would be Ellen and Obama. Those are two people that I feel I really want to get a chance to cook for.

On the days that you don't feel like going all out in the kitchen, do you ever have a go-to fast food order?

Oh yeah. Popeyes. My DoorDash is full of Popeyes, man.

My DoorDash is of the Popeye's chicken sandwiches and we also eat a lot of sushi. We love sushi ... We have a spot called Rice Box right next to us and Sesame, well, I think sesame seed chicken and shrimp fried rice with veggie egg rolls, was dinner last night. Yeah, man, either Popeye's or some Rice Box is my go-to, but typically I really don't eat the food that I cook.

How Dorzon approaches cooking at home

That makes sense. I imagine when you're around that all day, you're tired of it.

I really don't and I think a lot of people at this point in my career, a lot of people ask me, why do I still cook on a daily [basis]? I still love to plate food. People say I'm going to get tired of it, but so far, I haven't. I'm still at a point in my career where I can literally, physically cook food every day and put it in my refrigerator as a whole plate. Somebody, one of my friends can come and get it and eat it the next day. I typically tend to polish myself up every day. I find myself in cooking sessions where I got a drink with me and the music is going and I'm in the house.

My girlfriend is over. My friends are over and I got a chef that's under me now that pretty much with me all the time. We're up until three o'clock in the morning, literally perfecting different dishes. Things that I have [a] plethora of [are] culinary cookbooks. I test myself at this point, where we're going to go to Mediterranean tonight, or we're going to go Asian tonight, or we're going to go Spanish tonight, and I'm a heavy pasta guy, so I love making pasta. That's typically something that is more time consuming, but I love to actually do it as far as making new fresh pasta and then thinking of different ways to do a ravioli or something like that.

Dorzon's experience on Tournament of Champions

Also thinking about, along those same lines too, it sounds you got pretty far on Tournament of Champions, if not won. Can you actually say how far you got yet?

I really wish I could tell you how far I got. I will say, once I do start the battle, I think America's going to be in for a little treat. [I've been on] "Guy's Grocery Games," where you're getting 1.5 million views a show to "Tournament of Champions," where they're getting 13 million views a show. I've been on "Guy's Grocery Games" seven times and "Tournaments of Champions" is eight episodes. This is already something where, if you're on more than one episode, it's already ... who knows where I go in this show, man?

In "Tournament of Champions," do you have a favorite Guy moment or a favorite interaction with him?

Yeah. I actually have a anxiety attack. Right before I go out the battle, literally at the door, getting ready to get my name called out, and I have an anxiety attack and Guy literally walked me off a cliff and that's something that he does. It's never about him.

Guy Fieri walks Dorzon through his anxiety

It's always about making sure we're comfortable. I really can't talk, I had nothing to ever say negative about this man, because of the humility of him, man. He really knows he's done this a million times. It's like going on the football field and getting ready for battle, and those moments that you can have, who knows if he doesn't have that conversation with me, who knows where my mind is when I actually have to go and actually battle. Having him there, being able to talk to him, and being able to walk me through that process, he's going to help me go back out there and compete.

I'm one of those where loyalty is everything for me, especially the way I was raised. I was living in an urban community and was able to be blessed enough to actually go to college and see another side of something. I know both aspects of people and how people really are supposed to be treated. Guy is one of those, there's no color with him, there's no age with him. There's just people. If you're a person he treats you great. That's just who he is. There's nothing, no underlining, no benefit for him. The more people he can make successful, the more people he's going to make successful.

Dorzon's future plans

Do you have some future plans that you're looking forward to at this point or potential plans you want to try out if things go really well?

I'm opening a restaurant in Maryland, called Honcho House, that should be opening in the end of April [or the beginning of] May. It's in High Grove, Maryland. It's going to be an upscale fine dining, five course, chef's table, 58-seater, super elegant. It's American fusion, a little bit of American and Caribbean, American and Asian, American and Mediterranean, American and French cuisine. [We'll be] able to introduce a different type of culture and food, being able to give it flares, amazing plate ups, amazing concepts to each dish, palate cleansers, champagne upon arrival.

It's a lot of things that I'm introducing to the world via this restaurant. In November, I dropped a knife line in November that actually featured in Williams Sonoma, here in Texas, and my knife collection sold out. I'm going back with another knife collection, but I really want to ... My future dreams are to be more a part of the network, starting to do some judging, probably come up with my own show, whether it's on Food Network or Hulu or Netflix, YouTube, wherever, come up with my own show, really tap into the fashion part of culinary, making creative chef jackets, and cool chef pants to wear and changing that actual side of the typical chef look.

Dorzon's vision for the cooking future

If anybody can make that happen, it sounds like it's going to be you. You definitely got the goal, the passion for it.

That's another thing I took from football. You look good, you play good, but the same way you look good, you cook good. I'm always going to make sure I actually am the new brand ambassador with Chef Works, chef jacket line. We have so much stuff coming up where, from being able to do chef ID jackets, where you can get the name put on the back of your chef jacket or get your country flag put on it, some stars put on it, like jazz up your chef jacket. I know there's a lot of chefs out here that want to be able to do that or find a new fashion way to make culinary look good. I want to be that person to actually bring awareness to it.

Dorzon in a nutshell

Is there anything about you that you want America to know about you as a person or as a chef?

Pretty much, I really want America to actually understand what it is that I'm trying to bring to the culinary world where I'm trying to introduce this, like a different personality, but still the same passion and love for culinary that any chef has, but also know that I'm going to do something different that no one in our culinary world has ever done before, being able to bring food, fashion, and experience and all together into one thing. Food is not always just what it tastes like, but it's also the experience of actually having it. I want, when somebody's done with a dinner from me, to actually understand that this was an overall experience, not just coming and eating a plate of steak, but from the table side cut to the truffle side, to the table side truffles, to the palate cleansers to this amazing ambiance.

I want people to understand, when I'm done with this culinary thing at the end of the day, I think I'm going to be one of the best to ever do it. I have the attention of the audience from the TLCs and whatever it is, any network that I'm on, being able to be blessed, and do an interview with Mashed one of the biggest food websites that you can go on and be a part of. Opportunities like this, I feel like, are only going to help my chance to continue to show the world actually who I am as a chef and what I can bring to food.

Chef Tobias Dorzon competes on Guy Fieri's "Tournament of Champions," which airs new episodes on Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on Food Network. You can keep track of his culinary life on Instagram.