Exploring the world of Star Trek food with J.D. Keeling, and ‘The Captain’s Table’

JD and Spock
J.D. Keeling with Ethan Peck, who portrays Spock on Discovery and Strange New Worlds.

If you’ve ever watched an episode of Deep Space Nine and wondered what Raktajino might taste like, you’re not alone. There must be thousands of foods — not even counting the replicated stuff — mentioned on Star Trek that we 21st Century humans will never get to sample. Star Trek food was off limits.

Until now.

Thanks to super-Trek fan J.D. Keeling, fans everywhere can put on their aprons and pretend to be Quark or Riker. The tastes of the 24th Century are available to us, thanks to J.D.’s fantastic website, The Captain’s Table.

Keeling, who is also a member of the influential podcast, the SyFy Sistas, breaks down each dish by recipe. She gives her reasons for the ingredient choices and her take on how it should be served. We were lucky enough to get some time with J.D. and ask her how she came up with some of her choices, and where she plans to take her blog.

And yes, that is J.D. with Ethan Peck, who fans know as Spock from Discovery and Strange New Worlds.

TREK REPORT: Tell us a little about yourself…

J.D. Keeling: I work for a company out of Virginia in their accounting department. Which probably comes as a surprise to most given that I run a Star Trek food blog in my down time. But we all have to make a living, and I honestly love my day job and playing with numbers as much as I love sitting at my desk listening to food podcasts for future recipe ideas.

TREK REPORT: Tell us about The Captain’s Table. Why did you decide to start it?

J.D.: The website idea dates back to 2016 or ’17 when I was watching Deep Space Nine for the first time with my friend Jess. I can’t narrow down a specific moment where we both decided we should be able to eat all the food that they keep mentioning, but by time we got through to the end that was a definite thought. Part of this is because the food made it relatable and understandable. I, too, come from a family from New Orleans and my maternal grandfather was a cook, as was my paternal grandmother. So there was that connection.

But there was also what I couldn’t eat, and therefore wanted, like Raktajinos and Kanar. Or even Yamok sauce. All of these things that wind up being little jokes or passing comments. And rather than Google if such a thing existed like a cookbook, I decided to dive in myself and make what I felt things should be.

Icoberry Torte
Icoberry Torte

TREK REPORT: Are the recipes all yours, or do you get some input from others?

J.D.: When it comes to the alien cuisine, it’s all my own doing. I have a whole Google Doc that’s just notes from the series or books which I then work into my recipes. For example, we all know Jewish culture played a part in making Vulcans what we know because of Nimoy and others. So, my take on Vulcan cuisine pays homage to that but with the idea that Vulcan is a desert planet weighing equally in the equation.

Then the flavors and methods start to take from cuisines of Sephardic Jews of the Iberian Peninsula and the Mizrahi Jews of the Middle East because they’re warmer regions and approach food differently than the typical Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine one might be more familiar with in the United States.

However, for Terran cuisine, I try to source recipes and notes that are from someone from those cultures. I’ll watch shows like Bizarre Foods. I’ll talk to people about food they enjoy. I listen to so many podcasts about cooking. What I present is never authentic, for the most part, but input helps to ensure it is respectful.

Plomeek Soup
Plomeek Soup

TREK REPORT: What has the reaction been so far from other Trek fans when they learn about what you’re up to?

J.D.: People are generally pretty excited. It’s a little shocking at times since there are two Star Trek cookbooks (although good luck finding the original), but I understand since the most notable “Star Trek Cookbook with Neelix” on it is a little older.

It’s from the ’90s and how we eat has changed, how we approach food has changed. It’s fun but every year it becomes a little more of a relic of a bygone era. Which pains me to say as someone born in the ’90s. Yet, like fashion, food has trends and that book is vintage, let’s say.

And I also learned from too much time on Twitter that there is a #TrekkieFoodies tag which has been delightful. I enjoy seeing what other people cook, but it’s also nice to see people who also seem to enjoy food and cooking as much as I do since I’m a full supporter of ‘live to eat, not eat to live’. And honestly, I feel that cooking and food is one of the greatest ways to get to know someone and their culture given the inherent history of food.

It’s why I say on my blog food is a lot like Star Trek. Everyone has different favorites and thoughts on it, but there’s something for everyone there if you’re just open to it.

TREK REPORT: Have you been able to make these recipes and serve them? How did it go?

J.D.: So far, the only people who have tasted the recipes have been my family given that things really picked up for me during the pandemic. And they enjoy it but that’s because they’re used to my cooking and I have yet to do anything ridiculous like Klingon food or trying to feed them insects like they’re Ferengis.

In fact, the only time someone has tried my cooking would be when I share candy. I had made Jumja Sticks back in 2019 to share with friends at Shoreleave and folks really liked it. It was a fun fruit lollipop that lasted hours because Jumja Sticks, even the small ones I made, were so thick. Especially when it comes to creating the shape which was its own challenge. But yes, folks enjoyed it.

Raktajino anyone?
Raktajino anyone?

TREK REPORT: Which is your favorite?

J.D.:  My favorite recipe may be Icoberry Torte. It’s actually the second recipe I had created many years ago and I can’t say any changes have been made to it. It’s just a really pleasant torte that tastes amazing when warmed and pairs perfectly with Raktajino, for which I also have a recipe.

But — the torte or my Raktajino Ice Cream with Rigellian Chocolate Chips that I made because the Star Trek on Paramount Plus Twitter account said it was their favorite ice cream. And honestly, I think I whipped that up in a span of 24 hours after the initial tweet so it had the excitement of trying to do things quickly since the internet moves fast. And I honestly, love a good challenge.

TREK REPORT: When was your “First Contact” with Star Trek?

J.D.:  It’s funny. I had watched so much Star Trek, like TNG and the Kelvin films, before I really became a fan since being a fan, to me, means you really love it. And back then I wasn’t in love with Star Trek. We were casual friends, at best.

However, when everything was promoting the 50th Anniversary, it crossed my path due to people around me and general happenstance. I still remember being somewhere and watching “I, Mudd” and asking my mom who Harry was. All this is to say, at that point, I decided to watch the show from the beginning because I knew a lot of Trekkies and I was bored. So, I turned on TOS on Netflix and I fell in love with the captain immediately.

He had a good presence, was determined, and had the prettiest blue eyes. So when episode two came on I was here for Star Trek. Except my captain was gone because Netflix starts from the pilot. So I made the mistake of falling in love with Chris Pike and his crew in 2016. But it all worked out since Strange New Worlds is happening and I will finally get to see my captain lead a ship. It only took roughly six years of waiting on my end.

TREK REPORT: Who is your favorite character, and which is your favorite show / film?

J.D.:  Well aside from Pike, I have to say that my favorite character just might be… A really hard question to answer. It varies by show and movies since I will usually fall in love with someone for no identifiable reason. However, I guess one of the characters that means the most to me is Spock. And it’s strictly because I’ve always been compared to him.

Even as a child my mom would say I had Spock ears because my ears are actually pointed so that became the basis for my understanding of Spock. But I liked him in the Kelvin movies. He’s the reason I stuck through the pilot since I knew Kirk was supposed to be the captain, but Spock was there so how could I be wrong? I mean, he’s the reason I gave Discovery a shot. I love Spock. So… I guess him.

As for my favorite film, I always love to say this because it gives me a chance to plug the novelization of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (which was written by Jeanne Kalogridis). I don’t get how anyone who sat through the campiness of The Original Series can’t appreciate that movie on its own, but I will say that the book beautifully expands on things that should’ve been explained on film.

Like any of Sybok’s backstory. All of that would’ve been helpful knowledge. Like the way it explains what Sybok does — which is a horrifying display of power — and the traumas he genuinely helped others overcome makes everything more understandable since it’s just a movie about folks trying to find peace with their traumas. Well, the book is.