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A Star Trek Cookbook For the Next Generation
By Robert Michael Mendonsa
As any Trekker will tell you, San Francisco has a special place in Star Trek lore. The city is the future home of the Starfleet Academy, whose 23rd-century logo prominently displays the outline of the Golden Gate Bridge. The 1986 movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home depicts Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock time-traveling back to present-day San Francisco, where they coped with huge crowds in the Financial District and sanitation workers in Golden Gate Park. Our fair metropolis is also the birthplace of Lieutenant Sulu and headquarters for the United Federation of Planets.
It is therefore fitting that the Star Trek Cookbook, released this month by the Carol Publishing Group, was created right here in San Francisco, by a member of that hearty-eating tribe, the Noe Valleons. In fact, according to its author, Noe Valley resident Theresa Robberson, "the book couldn't have come together anywhere else. There are so many different people with so many different tastes in Noe Valley, you can always find somebody who'll taste something," at all hours of the day or night.
The story of how the book came to be is a tale in itself. In 1995, the same year Robberson moved into her house on Diamond Street, she was given a birthday present of a ticket to the annual Star Trek Convention at Masonic Auditorium. "I had always been a fan of the original TV series and was really starting to get into The Next Generation, so it seemed like it would be a lot of fun," Robberson recalls.
Although she enjoyed the convention, Robberson did suffer one major disappointment. "The food was so boring!" she says. "Unusual and interesting meals were featured in countless episodes, and here they were serving hot dogs and popcorn at a Star Trek convention! I couldn't believe it!"
Robberson, who works as a human resources manager but who cooks for fun, decided to do something about this glaring hole in the Star Trek universe.
After discovering that the only other attempt at a Trek cookbook was long out of print, she sat down and reviewed every episode from the '60s television show Star Trek. Then she launched into the sequels, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.
"Once I had catalogued every food and beverage that appeared on every episode, I watched each segment displaying food in slow motion several times over, so I could capture both the look of the food and the context in which it was presented."
But creating a Star Trek menu was a challenge. "After all, we're talking about cultures that don't exist yet. We have a lot of diversity here in the city, but to my knowledge no one has opened a Klingon or Vulcan restaurant yet," she jokes.
The Klingon dish "Gagh," for example, called upon all of Robberson's ingenuity. On Star Trek, "Gagh is a dish consisting of worms that are best served live," she explains. "I didn't think many people would find that appetizing." But after experimenting with numerous worm-like concoctions, she hit upon the idea of using squid-ink pasta. "It tastes great, but it doesn't move all over your plate!"
The Klingons aren't the only Star Trek civilization whose culinary quirks show up in the book. "The Cardassians are represented with Sem'hal Stew with Yamok Sauce [beef vegetable stew] and Taspar Eggs-in-a-Nest [eggs and caviar on a bed of hash browns]," says Robberson. "We've also got Romulan porridge, and the Vulcans' famous Plomeek Soup, which Spock threw at Nurse Chapell in Amok Time."
Robberson admits, however, that there's one species whose cuisine she avoided. "The Ferengi eat bugs and drink snail juice. I couldn't come up with a suitable replacement for that!"
Adjusting the recipes involved the production of vast quantities of food -- far beyond the capacity of Robberson's two roommates to consume. "We couldn't find anything in the refrigerator for months -- it was crammed with Trek food," recalls roommate Fiorella Gaia.
But Robberson solved this problem by enlisting her 24th Street neighbors. "I didn't want this cookbook to appeal only to Trekkers, but to everyone," she says. "So I would bring samples to the merchants down and around 24th Street. Everyone was great."
Taste-testers included Heather Ziegler and Veronica Calderon of Rory's ice cream parlor, Gary Speer at Graystone Wine & Liquor, Eddie Mullins of Mullins & Co., Sam Salamed from Good News, Raymond Dove at Cut Above Castro, plus the folks at Artemisia, Sea Breeze Cleaners, and the Diamond Corner Cafe. They sampled everything from casseroles to salads to chocolate desserts, these last being featured in a section dedicated to the Enterprise-E's ship counselor, chocoholic Deanna Troi.
Enthused Raymond Dove, "The choc-olate cake was out of this world, no pun intended. Really, it was so good I didn't share a bite with anyone!"
Having friendly neighbors was just one advantage to writing the book in Noe Valley. "Everything is so convenient here," says Robberson. "Whenever I needed something, I'd walk down 24th Street. I made one or two trips to Bell Market every day. The people at Graystone, Caruso's, and St. Clair's helped me with the specialty liquors I needed for the beverage section. I saved a fortune buying herbs from the bulk section at Real Food Company. The people at the Cheese Company were incredibly helpful. I bought a lot of the teas from Spinelli's. And it sure helped having Mail Boxes Etc. only a block away."
Even finding a publisher was easy for this first-time author -- almost too easy. "My partner told me to query before I'd actually finished the manuscript, to see if the idea had any merit. I'll never listen to him again!" Robberson says with a grin. Several publishers responded to her batch of 16 queries, and all were eager to see the full manuscript.
"I had to cook around the clock for a few weeks," says Robberson. And the time crunch was aggravated by her perfectionist streak. "I did not want this book to contain sloppy recipes thrown in just to capitalize on the Star Trek myth. I wanted to deliver the same high quality that the creators of Star Trek deliver when they produce their work."
Her final product has 130 recipes -- "148 if you count the dressings and icings" -- plus special sections devoted to party planning.
The Star Trek Cookbook will be "unofficial," which means it is not authorized by the creators of Star Trek, but Robberson isn't bothered, noting that many popular Star Trek products are unofficial.
"I queried Simon & Schuster [the official publisher of all things Trek], but they replied with a form letter which included a list of literary agents," says Robberson. "It worked out, though. I found my agent on that list."
Represented by Jennie McDonald of Curtis-Brown here in San Francisco, Robberson is happy with the outcome. "Carol Publishing has done some other Star Trek books, and their catalog is first-rate," she says. The book will hit the shelves in both hardbound ($16.95) and paperback ($12.95), starting the first week of November.
Robberson is also pleased to note that her book will be the only Star Trek cookbook currently in print -- in the Alpha Quadrant of the Milky Way, that is.
Robberson will sign copies of the Star Trek Cookbook and serve samples on Nov. 21, 8 p.m., at the Taylor Street Barnes & Noble. She'll also give a book party at Cover to Cover on 24th Street Jan. 10 (1 to 3 p.m.), coinciding with the British release of her book early next year.