Interview With TV's HANNIBAL's Food Stylist Janice Poon

Now in its second season, Hannibal unleashes a level of terror and gore that tests — if not frequently oversteps — the typical standards of network television. Based on Thomas Harris's novel Red Dragon, a prequel to Silence of the Lambs, the series traces FBI consultant Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) as he faces off with Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mikkelsen). Hannibal's cannibalistic creations are equal parts grotesque and gourmet, and they're no mere set dressing; the dishes are inextricably woven into the storyline of its episode. This means Poon's role far exceeds that of a typical TV food stylist, from her chummy relationships with the actors to the sheer demands of the job.

Working closely with series creator Bryan Fuller, culinary consultant — and Michelin-starred, world-class chef on the side — José Andrés, and a bare-bones staff of two assistants, the often-ponytailed Poon might find herself tasked with crafting a lifelike, food-safe imitation of a human lung, sourcing sea urchin out of season, or, as a particularly memorable scene demanded, dreaming up a horrific-yet-extravagant way to serve up a human leg.

Fuller tells us that moment in particular was a great example of how the trio works as a team. "I send an email to José and Janice and say, 'How would you cook a human leg?' José very quickly responds: 'It must be ossobucco, served with canoe-cut marrow bone,'" he remembers. "Then, Janice starts filling in specifics . . . as to what lively fruits or vegetables or exotic sea life would animate the dish to tickle our imagination's taste buds."

(The finished product: leg served baked in a clay shell, which Hannibal cracked tableside before serving up a slice of calf to to the same poor soul it had been severed from just hours before.) Fuller's reliance on the duo's expertise even extends into the writers' room; he often asks Poon and Andrés to help craft Hannibal's dialogue during meals as the character waxes poetic about his culinary creations.

Typically clad in her standard uniform of all black, Poon is frequently up before dawn to stop by the butcher shop where she is a regular, if not always welcome, customer. "They always look at me with fear and loathing," she laughs, "because it's not going to be just a quick, ring-me-up sale." Despite the growing familiarity among the city's food purveyors with Poon's offbeat job cooking for Hannibal the cannibal, her occasional trip to scope out pig rectums or inquire after a camel leg still raises enough eyebrows.

Her introduction to food styling came by way of a fast-food commercial she worked on as a young art director at an ad agency. She was "gobsmacked" to learn what went into crafting food worthy of a close-up. "All those hundreds of buns and billions of fries," she marvels. "Everything we went through to get one perfect burger! And even that wasn't perfect enough. We had to glue sesame seeds on it. We had to have it retouched."

Her natural curiosity, coupled with her sheer technical skill and artistic eye, are why Fuller tells us Poon "perfectly suited" to a job rife with challenges that, she only half-jokes, occasionally leave her feeling "victimized." One example? "Hannibal was making a point that some people are the same on the outside as they are on the inside. So he peels a Norton grape, which is a black grape, to show it's black inside, as well," she says.

There was just one problem: real Norton grapes have the same greenish inner flesh as every other grape on earth. So Janice spent a late night peeling regular grapes, soaking them in purple juice to achieve the near-midnight shade the script called for, drying them, then playing with a series of waxes until she discovered one that would peel similarly to the fruit's naturally occurring skin and capture the nearly noir casing of a real Norton.

Poon's encyclopedic gourmet knowledge and the elaborate dishes she crafts on Hannibal's behalf, which she documents in grisly detail on her blog, Feeding Hannibal, are at odds with her own refreshing lack of food snobbery. She has yet to visit any of her cohort José Andrés's restaurants, a fact she admits is "deplorable," and says that with her crazed schedule, takeout sushi is a standard weeknight dinner for her.

"If I'm at someone's house, I don't want to hear how this bird came from the third flock on the left in a tiny village on the shores of whatever," Poon says. "Just shut up and eat!"


ONTD if you had ever been served a part of your body, did you offer compliments to the chef?