Photo: Frazer Harrison, Getty Images
When she added "no eggs or dairy" -- never uttering the word "vegan" -- and professed her intolerance for soy or wheat, we sensed the evil guiding hand of the show's producers, eager to ratchet up the tension for the five remaining celeb chefs. The only way they could've played it up more would have been to have her break plates and pull a "Mommie Dearest" at the dinner table: "I told you, no gluten ingredients EVER!"
No such luck. The star of the heavily Bravo-promoted "500 Days of Summer" was a model of apologetic demureness when she met the cooks pre-meal, although she did decline Michael Chiarello's request to sing couple of a cappella songs in exchange for his culinary handiwork.
Behind her back, the Italian cuisine maestro was the most outwardly offended by the restrictions, calling them "off-putting."
The comment seemed all the more surprising when he whipped up, for Zooey and her hipster entourage, a lovely dish of store-bought quinoa pasta with his own heirloom-tomato salsa. His simple, fresh ingredients, highlighted by topnotch oil and seasonings, easily took top honors.
But as always, irony, thy name is "Top Chef." Tasked with the challenge of a vegan dessert, the fabulously flustered Art Smith was criticized by the judges for committing the very same crime as Chiarello: buying a premade main ingredient. But while Chiarello was at least able to justify his choice -- Italians will often select dried pasta over fresh -- no one was letting Smith off the hook for buying a few quarts of frozen vanilla Rice Dream and slopping it on a plate with fresh strawberries and homemade almond brittle. (Honestly, can you blame them? That stuff tastes like a pile of freezer-burnt Rice Krispies.)
In the end, Smith was asked to go home, allowing next-to-last Anita Lo -- whose biggest sin was a lackluster grilled eggplant -- to see another day. Coming through with flying colors were Hubert Keller and Rick Bayless, who wowed the crowd with white gazpacho and sweet corn tamales, respectively.
But to hear Gael Greene describe it, the real winners of the night were Deschanel and her animal flesh-challenged friends. The grande dame of food criticism repeatedly referred to them with the pity one would reserve for a feral child forced to subsist on water and dust: "The vegans seemed so surprised -- God knows what they get to eat!"
See what former Top Chef Masters contestant John Besh had to say about judging, being judged, and the challenge of cooking with one arm behind his back.