Feeding Hannibal, A review
I watched the first episode of Hannibal because of Mads Mikkelsen, who is a fantastic actor, and came out the other side going “holy crap the cooking!”
That is perhaps worrying for a show centered on a cannibal but this show did what none of the movies really accomplished. It centered on the cooking aspect of Hannibals proclivities. The food wasn’t crude or disgusting. It was beautiful without ever leaving you in any doubt about what, or who, was being prepared for dinner, and the act of cooking was orchestrated, something brought home by the classical pieces that the otherwise rather disturbing soundtrack weaved itself in and out of.
After a few episodes I realized I wanted to know all about this show, and being a chef I definitely wanted to know about the food, because outside of the higher end cooking shows like mind of a chef and chefs table, there really wasn’t any food prepared or shot with this much passion on tv. That’s how I found out about Janice Poon.
Janice was the food stylist for the show for all three seasons of Hannibal, and along with her team she produced wonderful and nightmarish food tableaus to mirror the murder scenes that not just Dr Lecter but various other killers arranged on the show. She kept a blog which featured her thoughts and ideas for episodes along with photos and drawings of her designs. Hers was not just the task of making food look appetizing, but also to make it look like people when viewing it from the safe distance of the tv couch, seeing the other characters eat with varying degrees of enlightenment about the true origin of the ingredients.
Her dedication to the show and affection towards the fanbase, the Fannibals, was mirrored with the rest of the production from the top down. From producers to showrunners, cast and technical crew they *shared* this show with us, and they seemed to love our participation in it, from fan meetings at conventions to running competitions and diving right in with our fandom madness online. Bryan Fuller, the shows creator, always seemed like another fan, one who had a massive budget and a crazy art department to realize his hannibal fic with :)
It wasn’t long before people started asking Janice for a cookbook, and now, it’s finally here. Your epicurean episode guide and companion to the Hanniverse. I won’t pretend to be a clinically objective reviewer, but I will argue that as a professional chef and fannibal, I am an informed one.
Feeding Hannibal, A connoisseur’s cookbook, by Janice Poon.
In my opinion, this book works because at it’s heart, it is a cookbook. Perhaps an obvious statement but for something produced as a companion piece to a tv show, or a book, or a movie, this is not always the case. There are countless examples where a book like this is produced either by a fan who doesn’t know how to cook, in which case it ends up being a labour filled with love that isn’t very good at being a cookbook, or its produced out of greed by a production trying to squeeze another dollar out of the fans in which case it lacks both love *and* decent recipes.
This book is produced by someone who knows how to cook, how can make food
visually stunning, who has a clear setting for her book in a work of
fiction where cooking serves (hur hur) an important role and who is
herself a huge fan of the source material. This is why this book is so
good. It is a professional labour of love.
If you take away the tv show, this is still a great cookbook, just like The Winter Soldier would be a great political action thriller even without the men and women in superhero outfits. Its foundation is solid.
Bookended by foreword and afterword by Mads Mikkelsen and Chef Jose Andres respectively, the book is packed with dishes directly from, as well as inspired by the show. There are anecdotes from production, gorgeous photos of both the food and the eponymous anti-hero (with the author not even trying to veil the adoration for the chiseled dane that so many fans share with her) along with Janices own artful sketches.
The book is neatly structured into sections ranging from breakfast, starters, mains, desserts, side dishes etc. It features arranging tips and tricks, as well as plenty of vegetarian options.
The book doesn’t shy away from the best bits of cooking, namely offal. there’s sweetbreads, brain, heart and tounges galore, as well as the more regular cuts of definitely not people. The photos may suggest otherwise however as the book definitely revels in it’s parent shows more criminal subject matter. And yes, there’s a flower crown, because of course there is.
The photography is lush, reminiscent of still life painting and with just as much creepy undertone. It is similar to books like Historical Heston in how it treats food like culture, like art.
Janice Poons artful sketches bridges the gap between figments of cannibalistic ideas to realised plate. She talks about the challenges of making dishes and scenes seem just.. human.. enough despite their more reasonable origins of lamb, pig or cow. Sometimes even vegetarian options substitute the meat all-together, and it turns out bulgur makes for excellent fake tongues.
At the end of the day this is a book that I enjoy immensely both as a fan and as a cook. It made me want to re-watch the show again, and it makes me want to fire up the stove. It is fun, it is passionate and it is sumptuous.
Go on, have another bite.