Sometimes, the behind-the-scenes of a TV show can be a bit pedestrian. Writers write, actors act, directors direct, food stylists create a roast made of human thigh…
All right, maybe that last one only applies to Janice Poon, who serves as food stylist on NBC’s dark thriller series “Hannibal,” created by Bryan Fuller. While Jose Andres serves as the show’s culinary consultant, it’s Poon, a Toronto-based artist, who came on the show in its first season to take on the challenge of creating the culinary masterworks of chief anti-hero Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen).
This isn’t like making sandwiches to be eaten during takes of “Modern Family,” for the record, because for those whose memory of Thomas Harris’s gruesome crime novels is hazy, Lecter is a cannibal with refined tastes. So for each episode, Poon has not only had to craft exotic fare that looks beautiful on screen and can be eaten by actors, she often has to do so using ingredients that look like they could have been, at one point, human flesh of some type.
The beautifully prepared food is a major key to the show’s aesthetic, and Poon has risen to the challenge episode after episode — though you wouldn’t understand the scope of that challenge until you read “Feeding Hannibal,” her blog devoted to the travails of the working food stylist on a network television show.
As showcased on the blog, Poon has a great attitude and quick mind when it comes to problems like “how do you avoid using real brains and testicles in on-screen Sacromonte omelets?” or “how do you make a roast look like it’s been growing moldy for weeks?” The pace of shooting is never more clear when she describes waiting at 3am for script changes (so that she can send an assistant to the butcher in time for the cuts she needs), and she writes about her food like an artist: “I want the food also to have the tension of precarious balance: repellant but tempting. Slightly off-center,” she remarks about a plate of “Lamb Tongues en Papillote.”
What’s most entertaining about Poon is that her blog, a relatively humble affair untied to any of NBC’s official social media work, has become a community unto itself. It seems to have begun with one of Poon’s regular traditions — at the end of each entry (tied to the episode of “Hannibal” that has just aired) she shares a related recipe. Readers from the very active “Fannibal” (yes, that’s really what they call themselves) fanbase began creating their own attempts at these recipes — some of which definitely lean towards expert-level culinary knowledge — and sending in photos of the results to Poon. Then Poon began sharing the pictures in subsequent entries, and the effect spiraled into a joyful celebration of a very strange show.
Because “Hannibal” in general is a very hard show to describe — morbid to a fault, grotesque past that point, but also oddly beautiful, with a pitch-perfect tone, incredible acting and enormous balls. Even non-fans of horror and/or cannibalism (like myself) can’t help but be captivated by its grim wit and strange joy — a joy that everyone involved with the show seems to share.
Just look at Janice Poon. Cooking up humanity by the pound, and despite the labor, having a fantastic time.
See what gets served up tonight during “Hannibal”‘s season finale, 10pm on NBC.