One of the most interesting aspects of NBC’s “Hannibal” is the incredible amount of attention paid to the meals prepared by the show’s titular character. We all know Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a cannibal, but the series presents his obsession in a new light by focusing on the fact that the man is a master of the culinary arts as opposed to a human-eating savage.
While the show gets gory, the scenes showcasing food are so well shot and mouthwatering that they resemble culinary masterpieces prepared on the Food Network.
“Hannibal” doesn’t return to NBC until next summer, but as shooting begins this month for season 3 in Europe,
Business Insider spoke with the show’s food stylist, Janice Poon, to get some insight on how it’s decided what food will double for specific body parts in Hannibal’s
unconventional, exotic cuisine.
“I can either rely on my feeble understanding of anatomy or I can ask Dr. Google what the dimensions are, what the skeletal structure is … just the general appearance and then I think, ok, what in the grocery store looks like what I’m looking for,” Poon tells us. “It doesn’t always have to be meat … sometimes an eggplant will look like what you’re looking for, like a wrist or something. Then you have to know the bone structure. It’s got a tibia, but I need a fibula, or maybe it’s the other way around.”
Poon says preparing for an episode usually involves getting a simple rundown from series showrunner Bryan Fuller and receiving input from celebrity chef José Andres.
“A lot of times, I’ll get a late night email from Bryan saying ‘We need a recipe for a leg, what can we do with this leg?'” Poon tells Business Insider. “I don’t think this is a spoiler of any type, in an upcoming episode Hannibal will be eating somebody, and it will be a leg. They had this idea going around in the writer’s room that they wanted to do a kind of a hallucinogenic evil witch thing, so they wanted to do some sort of candied meat. I don’t know if they just put words in a hat and pull them out and say ‘Ok, candy. Ok, meat’ and then email me, but it sure seems like it.”
Poon says it’s not always easy to convince the showrunners that her ideas will work. She once had to send a photo to showrunner Bryan Fuller to get the go ahead.
“I remember there was some doubt as to whether this shank that I was preparing would actually look like a cow’s leg, so I put a sock on it and a shoe, put it up against my leg and took a picture and emailed Bryan, and they bought it,” Poon said.
Poon says it helps to have a “very, very cooperative butcher or a guy at the abattoir is key, too.” She prefers shopping at ethnic markets, where she gets “different cuts that you wouldn’t get at your local grocer.”
Due to the volume that Poon goes through during shooting one scene, she says she tries to get something that’s easily available.
“Something that I can get from a butcher where they’re not going to say ‘Well what are you going to use that for, that’s not how you cut it!'”
Below is one of Poon’s sketches from the very first episode of “Hannibal,” when she was tasked with preparing a meal that featured a human lung. She added tomato toast, onions, mushrooms, and grilled baby tomatoes with herbs to balance it out.
Poon recalled that “pork organs are almost exactly the same size and shape as humans” and used this knowledge to prepare the meal. “There’s a loveliness about [the lungs], but of course there’s a grisliness too.”
She succesfully turned this:
… into this:
By episode 2, Poon had to figure out how to turn a pork loin into a delectable dish consisting of a woman’s thigh meat.
Here’s Poon’s sketch for episode 2, which consists of the “thigh” slices, caramel shards, a glazed apple wedge, mushrooms and gorgonzola
According to one of Poon’s many blog posts, she consulted her niece, a phsyiotherapist, to get the proper dimensions of a thigh bone, which she then cross-referenced with “Dr. Google” as seen below.
On the show, Hannibal served up the finished meal to FBI special agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne).
Poon says they like to aim for a balance between appetizing and nauseating when creating dishes.
“I want to maintain that underlying threat, I think that’s the key goal, to make it right on that knife edge of really appetizing and really scary. It’s like that excitement of ‘I’d love to eat it, but will it kill me?’ While shooting my favourite thing to hear from the crew is ‘Oh, that looks disgusting, can I try it?’ That’s the reaction I’m going for — something that is so alluring, just like Hannibal himself. We know he’s a monster, we know that he’s just the worst imaginable person, but we love him and it’s inexplicable, so that’s what I’m going for, too.”
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