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Why Fresh Pineapple Inhibits Gelatin Salads
(And Why We Like Top Chef so Much!)

 Why can't fresh pineapple be used in a gelatin-based salad? What must be used instead, and why?

 If you're going to get us started on Top Chef, you can expect an earful on the crazy stunts this television show puts contestants through that have little or nothing to do with determining who is a really good cook. But what kills us even more is when the judges — at least some of whom are well-respected food professionals — screw up on fundamental cooking points. In one episode in which the hapless contestants were to make a "healthful" main course, a contestant who made a lobster dish was mocked, scorned, and sent home because a nameless judge (who no longer teaches sloppy straight guys how to cook) went on and on about how much cholesterol lobster has and what a terrible choice it is for "healthy" cooking. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong! Lobster is a wonderful lowfat meat that has no more cholesterol than a skinned chicken breast, and way less than any red meat.

What does this rant have to do with your pineapple question, you timidly ask? On another watch-the-pathetic-monkeys-jump-though-insane-cooking-hoops episode of Top Chef, one woman tried to make a pineapple-gelatin dessert, and wondered again and again why it did not set up. It was discussed at length when she was badgered by the all-knowing judges. But did the restaurant chef judge, the food magazine editor judge, the takes-herself-way-too-seriously-but pretty host judge, or the no-longer-teaching-sloppy-straight-guys-to-cook judge ever once say, "everyone in the whole cooking universe knows that fresh pineapple contains an enzyme that prevents gelatin from setting up?" No they did not. They just talked about what a failure it was. Duh!

Fresh pineapple contains an enzyme that prevents gelatin from setting up (so do kiwi, papaya, and melons). If you want to use pineapple with gelatin, you use canned pineapple, because pasteurization during the canning process deactivates the pesky enzyme. You can also cook pineapple to kill the enzyme, but it will no longer be firm.

Come on, Top Chef, if you're going to put drama-queen, bitter, borderline-anti-social, and intensely profane cooks through whack-job cooking tasks — and pretend that it's something to be taken seriously — at least get your facts straight!

We don't want to go too far out on a limb, but we fully expect the new season of Top Chef to have contestants cooking a three-course meal in the galley of a motorhome that is chasing tornadoes in the Midwest, serving a flambéed dessert to a tired but successful rescue party near the summit of Mt. Rainer, and producing a multi-cultural fondue feast for mid-level officials from the United Nations in the little boats in Disney World's It's a Small, Small World exhibit. Now that's how you find a top chef!

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