Plastic Chef Neelix

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Get out of the kitchen......NOW!
"What kind of cook thinks that increased heat equals less cooking time? A bad one!"
Chuck Sonnenburg

This page is dedicated to the general cooking fail that is Neelix, a judgement that even the characters of the show agree on. When asked her opinion on some of Neelix's cooking, Seven-Of-Nine responded, "It is offensive."[1] Tom Paris calls his Spaghetti hair pasta.[2] Even Janeway complains about the nastiness of his coffee "substitute."[3]

"Of course it might not meet your personal culinary standards."
—Neelix
"Don't worry, I've learned to lower my standards since you became cook."
Tom Paris

Contents

Neelix does not respect the tastes of others

Leola Root. Neelix's favorite ingredient. You will eat this and like it! I am the Lord of Food!
"I think you have to be careful with spices. Kids' palates can be very delicate, and they might not like things overspiced. In my cookbooks for kids, I do a milder version of my signature spice blend, Emeril's Essence, called Baby Bam, which has no cayenne pepper."
—Emeril Lagasse

Many good chefs are known to tinker with recipes in order to improve upon them or to overcome a missing ingredient that isn't available. Neelix does not do this well, and in fact he finds ways to force his own versions of dishes on those he is serving, even when every part of the original recipe is available.[4] He seems to think that no matter what he is told, his special additions are always an improvement, and he is flummoxed at the very idea that someone could dislike his new version of the dish. This includes the addition of spices that he is constantly told that the patrons can't stand.

The ingredient in question is a rhizome called Leola Root. As is expected, Neelix adds it into everything, sweet or savory. He claims that the item is extremely nutritious, but seeing how it is used like ginger, his claims on the matter are very suspect. This item is so despised that the only time anyone even considered wanting to eat it is because the two of them (Tom Paris and Harry Kim) are starving in an alien prison![5]

He goes so far as to insist that when food is smuggled out of his kitchen because someone wanted to make a dish their way rather then his, some type of punishment is required. He does this even though any authority on the matter is self imposed in the first place.[6] It's understandable on a minor level that he would try to convince people that using locally available supplies is a worthwhile effort, but if something does not please the pallet of a patron (let alone your entire clientele), you shouldn't force it onto them. No, this is not the same as convincing children to eat their vegetables, as the items he insists on adding are only flavor enhancers, not items of any real nutritional value. The impression is that if someone was allergic to something, he'd still put it in their food and make them eat it anyway.

Neelix always cooks his food on high

Flames are cool, right?
"Use your knob!"
—Emeril Lagasse

It's somewhat understandable in the context of filming something cooking on screen to use an obviously visible flame, but what we see Neelix doing goes well beyond that. In every cooking operation we see Neelix doing, he is always doing so with the flames so high that fire licks up to sometimes half the height of the sides of the stock pot he is using. This helps explain why we see Neelix overcooking or even outright burning food on multiple occasions. Of course when this happens it is never his fault as he always claims some other issue is involved (even though not tending the food properly is usually the real reason). Any good cook will tell you that those kinds of heat levels are only useful in a very narrow number of applications: wok based cooking is a good example.[7]

Ignoring that, such high flame represents a massive waste of resources. We are constantly being told that power reserves are precious, but we then see Neelix overusing energy to cook the food that is suppose to be helping. No matter how the technobabble is explained to us, it doesn't change the fact that energy is being used very inefficiently to do tasks where not even close to those levels are required.

Neelix thinks that higher temperatures equals faster cooking times.

It just doesn't work....
"I think many cooks are afraid of undercooked meats. A good thermometer is a cook's best friend."
—Emeril Lagasse

This section is partially related to the previous point, but it showcases a different cooking-related issue. In the episode "Flashback", a technobabble material in a nebula is discovered that Neelix says they could inject into his cooking array, allowing him to cook meals in half the time. Because of the level of techno gibberish in this scene, it's isn't immediately obvious what assumption Neelix is making.

To make it clear, doubling the combustion rate of his burner is suppose to half the time his cooking will take to finish. This leads into something that is often called "Oven Logic", which is a mistake made by many amateur cooks. Doubling the power of your burner does not half the cooking time (or any other linear expectation) because of the complex chemical interactions that take place whenever you cook anything.

Neelix lacks even basic sauce making skills.

"If kids can learn how to make a simple Bolognese sauce, they will never go hungry. It's pretty easy to cook pasta, but a good sauce is way more useful."
—Emeril Lagasse

Neelix is seen in the episode "Learning Curve" to be making macaroni and cheese, where his solution for making a cheese-based sauce is to take a chunk of solid cheese and just toss it into a pot filled with macaroni and leave it at that. While with some soft young cheeses (and certain blue boxed mixes but that's butter and cheating) this is possible, even with those kind of cheeses, an experience cook will melt the cheese into a separate saucepan and integrate it into a sauce and then add that to the pasta. Also, this is another place where his inability to ever turn down his burners will generally spell disaster, as the pasta will be very over cooked before the cheese will become anything close to a stable sauce.

His high burners also mean that when he is making a large amount of a spaghetti-type sauce, he is required to tend the pot that the sauce is cooking in constantly in order to prevent it from burning. This is something that does not tend to produce a tomato sauce that will have much of anything that could be called good flavor or texture. It is not something he even tends to actually do as he constantly leaves pots unattended with massive flames running under then in order to talk to patrons, or a camera. This may be the reason Tom Paris expressed annoyance at the quality of his spaghetti.[8]

Neelix does not seem to understand basic food safety principles

Keep in mind the outside container was added by Tuvok. The one Neelix was using is inside the box.
"Cleanliness is very important. If you let kids make a total mess in the kitchen and then leave, you're not really teaching them anything."
—Emeril Lagasse

Once again we are forced to look to the disaster that was "Learning Curve". Neelix has made a batch of homemade cheese, and he is storing this cheese is in a bell jar-like container on the counter in his kitchen. While there are a few cheeses that can be stored in a room temperature state (none of which Neelix had the resources to make) without much worry, most experienced cooks will still store them in a refrigerated environment, as that is just one extra precaution against food poisoning. The danger-zone is a very real concern, and — as evidenced by Neelix managing to infect the ship itself with his cheese — just begs the bigger question of how many food poisoning cases was the Doctor dealing with that they just didn't care to show us.

Neelix's solution for cleaning greens for use in a salad was to shake them off and set them on the counter.[9] He does complain about the bugs found on those greens but does nothing to get rid of them other then grip about it. On another occasion, we find out that an ingredient being used in Neelix's kitchen is once again the cause of a technical issue with the systems of Voyager. This time, technobabble "fleas" are found in a new spice that Neelix is using (in everything again — learn a new trick Der Scheissekopf). This time we see that there is at least one crewman who has gotten sick from this new ingredient.[10]

Neelix's Kitchen is a Safety Nightmare

How am I suppose to stir the bottom of this pot?
Doing it right!
"I try to teach my son about sanitation, especially when handling foods like chicken that could be dangerous. I remind him to wash his hands all the time. When my son cooks with me, he stands on a step stool so he can reach the stove. I teach him about safety and fire."
—Emeril Lagasse

There is no specific example to cite for this one, as it is visible everywhere in Neelix's kitchen. It is an ergonomic and safety nightmare. He leaves kitchen utensils, including sharp ones, lying about in unsafe positions, but the most blatant example of this problem is visible in his burner setup. Neelix's burners are positioned so high that, while he is operating the stove, the tops of the pots are at almost the level of his neck or chin. This is very unsafe and an absolute ergonomic nightmare. Burns in the kitchen are a very serious matter, and having pots (and burners) filled with hot liquids at that height is asking to have them tipped over onto someone. This is even more egregious, considering that he is operating his kitchen on a spaceship that might swerve or bounce about at any moment.

Barring that, watch him try to cook in those pots and the absolutely awkward ways he must hold the utensils to stir anything in them to realize the other reason those positions are moronic. Stew pots should always be lower then chest level; it just makes everything much simpler to manage. In point of fact, this is why many industrial burners designed for use with high-capacity stockpots actually have stove-tops sometime a half foot lower then normal commercial ranges. [11]

Conclusion

Neelix is a horrible example for anyone on how to operate a kitchen in every sense of the word. Admittedly this is fault of the writers of the show, not Ethan Phillips: he can only do what he is told to do on set. The real problem is the writers and set designers rather than the actor playing the character. However, this absurdity shows how little the writers of Voyager cared about actually making Neelix look competent

Most of the safety nightmares in Neelix's kitchen result from only caring about making sure the fact Neelix is "cooking" is clear to the audience or to have flashy flames visible on camera. It is also a TV writer's syndrome I like to call "goldfish disease": writers think that viewers are goldfish, so if they can't see everything to do with an activity like cooking, they won't believe it's being done. This leads to pots on burners way to high to actually cook in to ensure that when the pot is being used, the fire can be seen too. You have to wonder if they've ever set foot in a kitchen before or ever seen an actual cooking show.

It is a sad reality that a cook book has been produced featuring Neelix on the cover. I'd rather see the book with Sisko on the cover, as he at least seems to know what he is doing. The sad part of this book is that recipes that had to be created by competent chefs (the book credits Ethan Phillips and William J. Birnes) are now associated with the insult to culinary arts that is Neelix.

References

  1. VOY "Year of Hell"
  2. VOY "Parturition"
  3. VOY "The Cloud"
  4. VOY "Faces
  5. VOY "The Chute"
  6. VOY "State of Flux"
  7. VOY "Flashback", VOY "Learning Curve"
  8. VOY "Parturition"
  9. VOY "Elogium"
  10. VOY "The Voyager Conspiracy"
  11. VOY "Investigations"
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