Top Chef Masters: A Soldier’s Story

E:  Aw, Floyd, you made me cry.

M: That was a very emotional episode for him, and in turn for us because of it.  I always love hearing the pride with which “naturalized” citizens speak of becoming a part of this great melting pot of ours, and to see him tearing up over the coin that his meal recipient gave him?  Well, that was seriously special.

E: The episode before the finale is always a tough elimination, but that turned out not to be the emotional core of the episode, which was surprising.  And cool.

M: Usually at this point the chefs are all fairly evenly talented and there’s no clear choice for who should go home.

E:  Well, it’s true.  That bit was brutal.  I didn’t want any of them to go home – they all seem like really terrific chefs.  It’s interesting, right, that Mary Sue and Tracy looked strong in the very first episode, competing for the first Quickfire win, but by a few episodes in, we’d identified Floyd and Naomi has alternate frontrunners?

M: That they, especially Tracy and Mary Sue, showed it right from the start, and have been able to keep it up through the whole season has been impressive.  They were definitely the top four throughout the season.

E:  Well, Mary Sue had a rough patch early on, but she recovered nicely, and won more than her share of the prize money.  But they all deserve to be there, which is good.  Even if Floyd hasn’t actually won much of anything, he’s usually right up there, and the ladies have won a ton. You like to be able to respect the top contenders.

M: Exactly, and even though Floyd hasn’t won a lot, he’s been in the top two or three of at least one challenge in almost every episode.

E: Also, this was a kick butt Quickfire.  How much fun was that?

M: I think this may be my favorite Quickfire ever!  I have been complaining about the Quickfires all season, but this was SOOOO much fun!

E: I seriously do not believe that none of the chefs recognized their relatives voices.  How is that possible?

M: I know, right?!?  They were their brothers and sisters and fathers, and they couldn’t recognize their voices because there was a divider between them?  Hilarious!

E: Floyd was maybe the funniest; he knows the woman is Indian, but can’t place her accent!  Seriously?  I can’t imagine that.  It makes me want to do some sort of blind vocal testing.  I mean, I feel like I could easily identify your speaking voice without seeing you, and C’s, and certainly our parents.  I certainly do over the phone.  Plus, I feel like your diction would give it away.

M: Yeah, I can’t imagine not recognizing your voices.  Maybe the next time C is home and we’re all together we’ll have to try it.  As a bonus, we’ll be a lot nicer than at least one of the chefs!

E: Gee, whomever do you mean?  Could it be – Naomi and her Dad?  I get that she wasn’t so much trying to yell at him as she was trying to make sure he heard her, but, yikes.  It only got worse when the chefs discovered who their mystery partners were.

M: She was honest about that being true to the way she usually behaves in the kitchen, which I found to be the most troubling, but her dad seemed to take it in stride and understand.

E: It was surprising, too; she generally seems very good natured in the kitchen, outside of this and that early fuss with Hugh.

M: That time didn’t even seem like it was specific to Hugh, it was just her trying to have her way in the kitchen, which I think was more of a sign than if it had been about him.

E:  What about poor Floyd, who was so determined to treat his mystery assistant with respect, somehow didn’t emphasize sufficiently that she needed to cut the asparagus (though don’t you feel like if it was you in his sister’s place, you would have asked?) and so lost out.

M: Actually, I very clearly heard him tell her to cut the tops off at about an inch and a half, I believe, she just spaced on it.  I think the worst part for him was that he could have done something much more complex if he’d known who it was, as he said his sister is a great cook.

E: Yeah, that’s sort of a shame, although they did say the food was very good too.  Mary Sue’s salad was deemed delicious, and nicely similar in appearance, but insufficiently complex.

M: And it looked good, but it also looked like something I could make, so I agree with the critics.

E: So Naomi’s drool inducing egg….

M: … perhaps for those who like eggs….

E:  …and Tracy’s simple fish and asparagus presentation took top honors, with Tracy and her brother Mitch crowned the winners.

M: I wouldn’t call it simple, she made him create a sauce in the pan, and the presentation of both was spot on, and pretty fantastic, laying the fish over the asparagus the way she did.  I thought it was the easy pick.

E: I agree that it was the easy pick, but at least the presentation also looked very easy to achieve. But then, in a way that was the task – when you have a restaurant, you need to be able to have other people make your dishes and have them look and taste exactly the same.

M: Right, and for once they judged them on the actual challenge.

E: Woohoo!  For once!

M: Seriously, we should NOT have to cheer about that.

E: No. Now, for the elimination challenge, which was to cook a meal for four specific soldiers with the menu decided by their families. I’m not surprised that Mary Sue knocked this one out of the park.  She had the most interesting yet accessible food (cooking for a Guatemalan family), and it happened to sit smack in her comfort zone.  Really the only person who could have challenged her was Naomi, and that would have required her to hit it out of the park.

M: Which she most certainly did not do.  I agree about Mary Sue, though; she got by far the best menu from her soldier, and when you combine that with the fact that it was a style that she cooks all the time?  Game over, man.

E: While the show was happening, I wasn’t at all sure who the judges would send home.  But now that it’s over, I think it was probably an easy choice.  The judges might have found Floyd and Tracy’s meals boring, but at least they were perfectly cooked.  I’m really sorry to see Naomi go, though.

M: I felt the same way, as I had come to really like her over the course of the abbreviated season.

E: Parental abuse not withstanding, she comes across as a great chef with a really engaging personality.

M: Totally, I’d love to go to her restaurant.

E: Yes, and as we’ve discussed, that’s always an interesting aspect of these shows; I can respect a chef, but it doesn’t always make me want to try their food.

M: Exactly, some of them you think they’re doing a great job, but I have no interest in actually eating what they cook.  Back to the challenge,  as they were critiquing the meals it felt like all three could be in danger, but when they got right down to the end I thought it had to be Naomi.

E: Right.  She botched the shrimp in her shrimp fried rice; no one else had actively done anything wrong. If it wasn’t her, I think I’d have been upset.

M: I felt bad for both Tracy and Floyd, but especially Floyd, who were being criticized for doing exactly what they were challenged to do.  I mean, Floyd specifically was given a guy who wanted basic steak and potatoes, and didn’t like spices or, basically, flavor.

E: See, this is just like the Date Night challenge.  They ask Tracy for meatloaf, she gives them meatloaf, and the judges get mad at her for just giving them meatloaf.  I know they have to find something to criticize, but still.

M: So aggravating when they do that.  Like with Floyd, master of spicy Indian cooking, perfectly cooking a spiceless steak, and doing it so much to the soldier’s satisfaction that he gave Floyd a coin honoring him and thanking him for the meal.  I don’t care if you’re Stoic the Vast, that’s going to bring a tear to your eye.

E: Stoic the Vast would totally have cried. When Floyd said “When someone gives you a gift that means a lot to them, it should mean a lot to you.  And it does.”, I mean….

M: Not much else you can say, other than it’s time for the finale.  I think Tracy’s gonna pull it out.  And yes, I know you’ve already watched it, so shush.

E: As has the rest of America.  But I’m shushing.  At least you’re finally catching up!

M: Did I mention SHUSH!?!

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