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Top Chef Masters Recap: Meet Me in the Mess Hall

Real funny, Curtis.

Real funny, Curtis.Photo: Nicole Wilder/Bravo

Top Chef Masters

Season

3

Episode

9

A Soldier's Story

On this week’s very special episode of Top Chef Masters, it’s all about family and sacrifice and patriotism, and it doesn’t feel like the kind of episode that’s leading into a season finale so much as something that could have run in the third or fourth week. (In a personal first, your dedicated recapper watched the action unfold while aboard a JetBlue flight, which is relevant only because the snack and beverage service was a lot more exciting than anything happening onscreen.) But anyway, let’s see how the penultimate installment unfurled with more of a whimper than a bang.

Curtis’s face is frozen in a toothy grin as the four remaining cheftestants brace themselves for the final Quickfire of the season. Floyd hasn’t won all season, so he’s hoping to change that today. (He won’t.) In order to test their verbal communication, the Masters have to yell cooking instructions over an impenetrable barrier separating them from mystery teammates, who all turn out to be family members: Floyd’s sister, Mary Sue’s sister, Naomi’s dad, and Traci’s non-gremlin brother, who happens to look a lot like her nonetheless.

Testing the limits of our belief is the strange fact that none of the chefs recognizes their teammates’ voices, including Floyd, who detects an Indian accent from the woman on the other side of the wall. It’s funny for a bit because Naomi unknowingly yells at her dad, who doesn’t know what a shallot looks like, but otherwise it’s kind of an annoying Quickfire because this is yet another one of those challenges that does not happen in real life.

The cooking is done, the barriers are removed, and the chefs hug their possibly estranged family members. Traci finds it “kind of appalling” that Naomi yelled at her father so much, but she’s all good because her brother made a plate of halibut to rival her own. No random C-listers are invited to be the judges this week, so Curtis fills the role and scolds Mary Sue for making a salad and awards Traci the win. Floyd narrowly resists cutting her and opts instead to go listen to Bruno Mars in his room (just kidding).

With the chefs’ family members out of sight, the focus shifts to other families, those with members in the armed forces who have returned home from the field. We meet people who are getting ready to welcome home their loved ones and the way they will do that, naturally, is with a buffet meal prepared by highly trained restaurant chefs. On top of that, they need to serve food that the servicemen have been missing while eating goat kebabs and bread every day.

Floyd is inspired, Naomi touts her family’s military experience, and Traci is grumpy: “I can make some fancy French dish easier than I can make some meatloaf.” Apparently they don’t have to go shopping in this episode, because the food magically appears and they get to work on cooking for 100 people with no prep staff.

There’s no drama in the kitchen or during the dinner. Everything plods along pleasantly enough, and the families all seem to like the food. Curtis the Australian welcomes everyone home to “our country.” Floyd needs a victory because he’s won, like, $5 for his charity. But everyone votes and Mary Sue wins for her ribs with avocado-corn relish. Floyd is crushed, but there’s a silver lining for him, as he strikes up a bromance with military man Eric, who loved Floyd’s beef tenderloin and gives him a special coin as a token of his appreciation. They embrace, gently weeping.

At the critics’ table, Naomi learns that all of the shrimp on her plate was undercooked, James condescends to ask Traci whether she knows how to use salt, and Floyd is being criticized for not seasoning his meat, even though he was cooking for someone with bland tastes. He awkwardly shows off his new coin to everyone: “I won today.” There’s more debate about who should be sent home, and it seems like Floyd is likely to get the boot. Ruth says she “felt very safe in [Traci’s] hands, but James is like, “The saltiness of Traci’s meatloaf did not make me feel safe at all.” He really needs to stop.

Commercial break: Why is Liza Minneli going to be on Rocco’s Dinner Party?!?!

Back from the break, Floyd is talking about framing his coin, and we’re tired of hearing about it already and ready for him to be sent home. But then, a twist: Naomi, who kind of won half of the challenges this season, is dismissed. Little shrimp, big problem. So Floyd, Mary Sue, and Traci are next week’s finalists, which kind of makes sense given their seniority. But let’s hope the finale has a little bit more of a pulse than this episode.

Next week: Tom Colicchio! Lots of traffic! Jonathan Waxman! A surprise at a house! Susur Lee!

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