The Woman Who Made Cannibalism Look Delicious
Artist Janice Poon was the lead food stylist on the cult-hit 'Hannibal'. Poon made even the most grisly murder look mouth-watering. Now she's taking her creativity to the kitchen with a new cook book for cannibals (sort of).
Wild creativity is what made the food styling on Hannibal—the much beloved but now canceled origin series about erudite cannibal Hannibal Lecter—stand out. A pink and succulent chunk of meat wrapped up in banana leaf and sprinkled with pomegranate reduction made even a human leg look appetizing. Janice Poon, the food stylist, was responsible for making grisly crimes into something delicious. Now she's funneling those efforts into a cookbook called Feeding Hannibal: A Connoisseur's Cookbook, which is set to be available in October and is now available for pre-order on Amazon.
As someone who used to order Chinese food with friends and chomp on shrimp while we watched the show, I can confirm that the meals on Hannibal not only looked attractive, but appetizing, which was all a part of her plan.
"That's always what I wanted. Because that's Hannibal," she said excitedly to me over Skype from her home and office in Toronto. "Our Hannibal was so compelling. He's bad, but I must have a bite."
The book is set to feature over 100 recipes from the show, including some vegetarian options for those who aren't so into the murder and body horror.
Poon has been working with food since she was a child. Growing up in Alberta, Poon's family owned a few restaurants in her small town; some of her earliest, fondest memories are from standing on a Coca-Cola box, making miniature creations in a bakery.
"I was doing charming things like peeling liver before I was too young to say, 'That's disgusting,'" Poon recalls. "I just did it because I was asked to do it: cleaning shrimp, eviscerating chickens. Instead of playing with Barbies, I was slicing viscera."
Instead of playing with Barbies, I was slicing viscera.
Though she always considered herself an artist, Poon was not a fan of poverty. "No, no starving for moi," she says. She's hopped around to many areas of the art world. Poon worked as an art director in a fancy advertising agency, then as an interior decorator for a Saudi princess, then ran a quilt shop, and, eventually, came back around to food.
"You take a skill set, and the only thing that really changes is the nomenclature," Poon says. Multiple times throughout our talk, she set out to remind me that "everything's the same." She's a sculptor, but working on Hannibal has just been another exercise in 3D modeling.
"It's the reverse of doing a sculpture: taking something 3D and understanding how it will look its best in the two dimensions," she said. "Bryan says to make everything cinematic. What he really meant was make every image like a painting."
On Hannibal, she wasn't given much stage direction from creator Bryan Fuller in terms of what she could do. She would read the script, look at the set production, and let her imagination run wild.
Considering she was emulating a man that once turned a human leg into beggar's clay chicken, Poon had quite a challenge put out for her. She would read scripts and design dark and humorous mise en place, with little direction from Fuller, often picking up pieces of inspiration from the set.
"You go to set and see Hannibal is wearing a plaid suit and a paisley puff. His dining room has stuffed crows and peacock feathers. And that tells me something," she said. "I wanted the plates to tell that story. That whole fear me thing, respect me, because he's the most pedantic guy I've ever met, fictional or otherwise."
As we wrap up our call, Poon says that she's finishing up photography for the cookbook. She set up every still life and prepared every recipe inside, making this not only an official Hannibal tie-in, but also something that Poon created herself. Alongside her preparations for the book, she's also working on floral arrangements for a wedding and painting pictures for another film. Her home office is full of disparate projects, and she's always busy, but it's a challenge she appreciates.
Working on Hannibal was something different and it was a challenge, but, according to her, "It's the challenging things that are so rewarding. "You did it because you loved it so much."