FEEDING HANNIBAL: A CONNOISSEUR’S COOKBOOK Review

Don’t just eat the rude. Eat them well.

Yesterday, we were pleased to exclusively debut one of the recipes from Janice Poon’s new cookbook Feeding Hannibal: A Connoisseur's Cookbook. Poon was the food stylist on Bryan Fuller’s breathtaking feast of a series, and her careful sketches and playful creativity informed so much of what we know about Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s culinary vision.

Readers of Poon's blog have long known that, in addition to proving herself a once-in-a-generation chef and food stylist, she's also got an impish sense of humor and a level-headed approach to cooking that makes the transcendent result all the more surprising. She's fun to read, and Feeding Hannibal is a terribly fun cookbook. While the dishes you're preparing - heart tartare tarts, lung and loin in wine sauce, linguine with sea urchin cream - may sound impractical, Poon's approach is pragmatic and crowd-pleasing. It's doable, and that's the most exciting thing about Feeding Hannibal.

Here you've got over 150 recipes, broken into the following categories: Breakfast, Appetizers, Mains - Meat, Mains - Fish and Vegetarian, Soups, Salads and Side Dishes, Desserts and Drinks, and a bevy of smaller garnish recipes meant to help you "Hannibalize Your Table." The cookbook is further served by a beautifully illustrated guide to Hannibal's "Batterie de Cuisine" (cooking equipment) and "Tricks, Tips and Traumas of the Trade," a food stylist's common sense guide to, well, everything. Of course, this isn't only about the words and recipes. Hannibal was a beautiful show, and Feeding Hannibal is a beautiful book. The recipes are themselves garnished with Poon's singular artwork, stunning shots of the dishes and plenty of stills of Hannibal's stars enjoying the fare on set.

And they were really enjoying it - the beautiful, exotic food that Hannibal and his guests ate onscreen was authentic cuisine, often prepared by Poon. She augments many of the recipes with funny and insightful anecdotes, describing how she conceived of some of these frankly inconceivable dishes, and how they were received. They were, of course, received very well most of the time, and in his forward, star Mads Mikkelsen remembers intentionally botching a few takes with Laurence Fishburne so they could continue to scarf Poon's foie gras. But sometimes the experimental fare went a bridge too far. Poon recounts how episode 2.12's kholodets (a traditional Russian jellied meat dish) was her "most mocked meal," one that made Laurence Fishburne gag for the Season 2 blooper reel, so here she offers a likely more palatable substitute with "Mobius Fish in Aspic."

Not all of the recipes herein were prepared for the show. Poon admits that after discovering there would be no food in episode 1.03 ("it was a terrible shock to me to be sidelined so early in the series"), she decided to create a couple of recipes inspired by the "Ravenstag, Wendigo, the Shrike Stag and Spooky Baby Stagenstein": Ravenstag Stew and Deerly Beloved Meat Pies. Both look incredible.

Some of the recipes are marvelously simple. You could blow someone's mind with a Hannibal-inspired snack tray of prosciutto roses on watermelon, summer pudding, pomegranate chevre and a batch of Punch Romaine, and you could do it all in a couple of hours. But most of the recipes require a lot of preparation, a steady hand and no small amount of grocery money (apparently Phil's recipe of yesterday asks for a ham that goes for as much as $1600).

But what's pretty astonishing about Feeding Hannibal is that not one of these recipes seems unmakeable. Poon's style is so easy to follow that she brings us all into the memory palace of Hannibal Lecter, helping us understand what he loves about exotic fare, why he prepares and presents his dishes in such a curious manner. These recipes are complicated and unconventional, but they also make sense. You can follow them. With time and money, you could be just like Hannibal Lecter. I'll leave it to you to determine how far you want to go with that endeavor. 

(You can follow my Hannibal reviews here. May that strange, beautiful series rest in peace.)

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