Hannibal Lecter is known for two things: murder and cooking fancy dinners. Portrayed most famously by Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs (1991) and most recently in NBC’s Hannibal (2013-2015), the character follows a trademark routine of killing a person and then using the resulting body parts as the star of his next dish. He frequently treats guests to a top-notch dinner without informing them that what they are eating is, perhaps, a pair of lungs, an arm, or a thigh.
Although cannibalism isn’t illegal in the United States, using actual human organs to create the most realistic food for a TV series would not be the best idea. So the creative minds behind Hannibal had to take a different approach. Hannibal’s secret to making its delectable-looking dishes with seemingly “human” meat was a woman named Janice Poon.
An artist who specializes in food styling, Poon played a major role in creating the mouthwatering plates. For the show’s first episode, Poon told Buzzfeed that, when she received the script a few days before shooting was scheduled to begin, she was tasked with finding something to resemble a human lung. She knew that lead actor Mads Mikkelsen, who plays Hannibal, would not only have to cook with whatever she chose but taste it as well – and the tasting was to be done before it was cooked.
Mads Mikkelsen on Hannibal (2013-2015)
“I was thinking something with air sacks,” Poon told Buzzfeed. “If I cut, like, a giant French loaf and soak it in egg to get that pink color…” But that wouldn’t do because Mikkelsen couldn’t eat raw egg. Eventually she settled on mortadella, a large Italian sausage.
For scenes that required larger pieces of supposedly human meat, Poon had to consider the size of an animal and which pieces of the animal had the potential to work best.
“I remember thinking, ‘If I could just get some giraffe meat,’” Poon said to hopesandfears.com in an interview. “I did make a few calls, ‘There must be a zoo that’s lost a giraffe recently. They can FedEx it to me.’”
In some instances, although she said she tried not to do it often, she would stitch together pieces of meat in order to create a larger piece. Poon, who has a blog called Feeding Hannibal, describes how in the final episode she stitched together several pork lions over beef and lamb leg bones. In total, her creation to resemble Bedevil Du Maurier’s roast leg weighed 12 pounds.
The food stylist has said that her goal was to make people intrigued yet creeped out by the food. Her meat creations subtly remind us that, however appetizing they might look out of context, these are supposed to be pieces of human flesh that Hannibal is serving at his dinner parties.