“This is my design.” Those four words are practically the mantra of FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) on NBC’s critical darling Hannibal, based on Thomas Harris’ books featuring infamous cannibal Hannibal Lecter. As Graham inserts himself into the minds of the killers he’s stalking, he ultimately sees the crime through their eyes—hence those oft-heard four words. But “this is my design” could also be the mantra of the team creating the various “meals” Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) serves to unsuspecting guests, crucial to the show’s creepy, seductive feel. (Is it pork ... veal ... human? Who really knows?)
That team is headed by none other than José Andrés, the celebrity chef who has two Las Vegas restaurants (Jaleo and China Poblano, both at Cosmopolitan) and is preparing to open two more at the SLS. Andrés is apparently a huge fan of the Chianti-sipping madman, and told the Washington Post that he’s not at all afraid to be associated with the show. “This is beyond cannibalism. It’s about people who have dark sides and dark stories. This is TV! I’m going to lose customers doing this? I don’t think so.”
Once Andrés has selected his menu for each episode, it’s up to Toronto-based artist Janice Poon to bring it to life, so to speak (Some of the dishes Poon comes up with herself). We selected some of the show’s most visually arresting meals to get Poon’s take on how each dish was created. Feel free to try making them in your own kitchen, but to paraphrase a famous cannibal, be forewarned: None are vegetarian.
1. Langue d’agneau en papillote, served with a duxelles sauce of oyster mushrooms
(Season 1, Episode 6, “Sorbet”)
Andrés spokeswoman Stephanie Salvador says, "It was Jose’s idea to do tongue en papillote with duxelle sauce. Janice had proposed a red pepper sauce for a bloody smear on the plate which would be overly white for camera with the papillotte, but Jose felt that the duxelles would be better …brown is sexy too, so Janice went with autumnal colours and did the parchment in an origami fold to break things up visually—and as a nod to Hannibal’s Japanese upbringing."
Poon says, “The script reference here was ‘chatty lambs’ with ‘lively tongues,’ and José suggested lamb’s tongue en papillote with duxelles sauce. I scoured the suburbs for lamb tongues and cooked them up to discover they were about as attractive as large grey larvae.
“Also had my doubts that the actors would want to eat them. So I made up a mixture of kibbeh—a bulgar-based dough, which has a nubby texture like the surface of a tongue. I needed about 50 tongues to get through the two-page scene and shaped each tongue by hand. The normal paper fold for en papillote results in a flat white demi-lune. Hannibal has white plates, so I thought I needed to do something more interesting visually for the scene.
“Since Hannibal was brought up by his Japanese aunt, I thought he would naturally have origami skills, so I made paper lotuses from the parchment for him to present the tongues in.”
2. Dishes served at Hannibal’s dinner party
(Season 2, Episode 6, “Futamono”)
Poon says, “Party food is to a food stylist what humoresque is to a musician: Fun, colorful and complex, it’s a quick piece that, played well, will dazzle the audience. There are no troubling resets—just make up a lot of gorgeous trays of eye-catching food. Oddly, no people were served.
“First is beef roulade [below left], sushi rice rolled in Wagyu beef and marinated in Korean barbecue sauce and seared over white charcoal on a shichirin.
“Next are prosciutto roses on watermelon [right], roses made of thinly sliced prosciutto on cubes of watermelon and seasoned with white balsamic vinegar.
“Finally, there’s heart tartare tarts [below right], filo pastry flowers filled with finely chopped veal heart seasoned with olive oil and capers.”
3. Truite au bleu
(Season 2, Episode 8, “Su-zakana”)
Salvador says, "On the trout dish, it was José’s idea to do the trout en bleu served in a broth. He described the 'blue' technique to [show runner] Bryan Fuller so he could write the kitchen scene."
Poon says, “To make truite au bleu, you plunge freshly killed trout into wine vinegar to turn them a ghoulish blue. José suggested we do this classic French preparation in Episode 8’s dinner, where Hannibal and Will are playing out their complicated relationship. I cranked up the ghastly by pulling their tails through their mouths before I poached them—making them look as if they were devouring themselves.
“On the serving platter, I arranged the fish in a tableau inspired by Japanese woodcuts of an underwater battle between an octopus and a salmon. José contributed more gore by suggesting Mads gill-gut the fish in the kitchen scene. Between teaching Mads to gill-gut, getting the fish-wrangler to supply matching fish, blueing them and twisting their tails through their mouths, preparing the food for that shoot was gut-wrenching.”