Quoting Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin allows me a wry comment on what I’ve been anticipating with great pleasure. Oh, how I’ve been waiting for this book, and on October 18th it arrived: Feeding Cannibal: A Connoisseur’s Cookbook by Janice Poon, the food stylist for Hannibal. Bryan Fuller created a television series under the guise of a psychological thriller, within a labyrinth of elaborate meals and elaborate butchery, which actually deliberately questions the tenuous connections of what is taste, what is taboo. As Gillian Anderson and Mads Mikkeksen’s characters discuss in episode one of the third season, “Antipasto.”
BEDELIA DU MAURIER: You no longer have ethical problems, Hannibal. You have aesthetical ones.
HANNIBAL: Ethics become aesthetics.
How to understand Hannibal’s statement? One way, is in that aesthetics supersedes ethics as a system of judgment because it does not impose conditions on nature as drastically as judgments of what one should or should not do. In Critique of Judgement, Immanuel Kant offers this assessment,
Above all, however, nature shows in all its free formations a great mechanical tendency to produce forms that seem made, as it were, for the aesthetic employment of our power of judgment; and nature gives us no grounds whatever for supposing that [the production of such forms] requires anything more than nature’s mechanism–considered as nothing but nature–since nature’s mechanism can make these forms purposive for our judging of them even if they are not based on any idea. (222)
You see, there we have the beautiful or sublime based on your viewing of nature, which of course nature also participates in, with no idea of good or bad necessary. The above image from “Antipasto,” features a cochlear garden where snails slide along the severed arm of Dr. Abel Gideon, played by Eddie Izzard, an arm bathed in red wine. These black and white scenes take us back in time to Hannibal’s slow-eating of Dr. Abel Gideon, and of course, Abel’s eating of himself.
HANNIBAL: They prefer eating in company. I’ve kept cochlear gardens since I was a young man, fattening snails on herbs and vine leaves. Like all of us, what they eat greatly influences and enhances their flavor.
DR. GIDEON: When I’m not eating myself, you wish me to be eating oysters. Drinking sweet wines, snacking on acorns. All to make me tastier?
HANNIBAL: Oh yes. And you are making them tastier.
DR. GIDEON: And I you. Imagine what you must taste like. Won’t be long before someone takes a bite out of you.
HANNIBAL: When agitated, sea snails produce a purple dye. Its color won’t fade. Becomes brighter with weathering. You’re becoming brighter, Abel. Dying hasn’t dulled you one bit.
DR. GIDEON: The snails are certainly having a lovely experience, fattened on me in a red-wine marinade. They have no idea they’re going to be eaten. We do.
Janice Poon’s cookbook sets the table and stocks the kitchen for us contemplating the series and the implications food and cuisine have for who we are, how we relate to others, and exactly what does a food chain mean. Opening with a foreword from Hannibal himself, Mads Mikkelsen, Ms. Poon offers us the tools of the chef’s trade, followed by chapters devoted to breakfast, appetizers, main dishes, soups and salads, then deserts and drinks. Near the end, the book plates a playful chapter entitled “How to Hannibalize Your Table, with such delicacies as Tomato Blossom skewers and Eye of God Cookie Bowl. The recipes take the fannibal through each gastronomic celebration of each episode, with at times, observations on how a particular dish connects to a dramatic scene. José Ramón Andrés, Culinary Consultant on Hannibal, writes fitting words, Hannibal Lecter has the mind of a chef.
To really experience this book and add something to watching the show, which I constantly return to like a great book, I decided to make Escargot Bourguignone, which of course, allows me a tasteful reminder of Dr. Abel Gideon. Unfortunately, I have not created my cochlear garden yet (but on the way) so I did the next best thing and went to Spec’s and purchased two dozen, very large canned snails courtesy of Roland and two dozen extra large snails shells. A few bulbs of garlic, parsley, and european-style butter rounded out the shopping. I already had a bottle of grappa at home, which I planned to sip while dining on the snails and watching “Antipasto.”
There are the shells, and here are the snails.
Succulent. I mix together butter, garlic and parsley following the guidelines of the recipe.
And now butter and snails into the shells.
Topped by more butter. Can there ever be too much snail butter? No. Then into the oven at 350 degrees for ten minutes.
Out they come, preceded by the most wonderful aroma.
A simple plating, the careful use of a knife, scooping out with spoon, gathering as much butter, garlic and parsley as I can, and then into my mouth.
Even if you are not a fan of Hannibal, I recommend this book for its exhaustive exploration of haute cuisine from France to Japan to Italy. And as a way of offering a concluding digestivo, here is the opening scene of “Antipasto,” featuring a glorious Pinhead Pork Belly with Sugar Cane Skewers. Bon Appétit!