The Horror Honeys: Honey Wine & Horror: A New Interview with Food Designer Janice Poon

Honey Wine & Horror: A New Interview with Food Designer Janice Poon

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A Horror Honeys Interview from Classics Honey Samantha McLaren

For fans of Neil Gaiman, Bryan Fuller, or weird television in general, this Sunday’s TV schedule felt oddly empty. It was, after all, the first Sunday since the American Gods season finale.

Years in the making, the hotly anticipated adaptation of Gaiman’s Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker award-winning novel did not disappoint. Oozing with hallucinogenic visuals and decadently off-kilter sound design, the series was a gory head trip into spiritual delirium, opening enough veins along the way to keep even the most demanding god satiated in blood sacrifices until the second season rolls around. Better yet, it vastly expanded the roles of some of the book’s fascinating female characters (like man-eating love goddess Bilquis and “dead wife” Laura Moon), and features one of the most achingly beautiful gay sex scenes ever shown on TV.

Food designer Janice Poon
And really, we expected nothing less with co-showrunner Bryan Fuller steering the ship toward the Promised Land. As an added treat for those who’ve followed Fuller’s work, American Gods’ cast and crew were a who’s who of the man’s regular collaborators, including Pushing Daisies’ Kristin Chenoweth and Hannibal’s Gillian Anderson, Jonathan Tucker, and Demore Barnes.

But one of the creatives whose return we were most excited about works behind the camera, creating the elaborate feasts that helped make Hannibal so visually delicious. We are, of course, talking about incomparable food stylist, illustrator, and writer, Janice Poon. For Gods, she fed the multitude of deities far more than fish and loaves, with dishes ranging from humble Russian cabbage rolls for Czernobog and the Zorya sisters to wash down with vodka, to cheeky stigmata cookies that would make the many Jesuses weep. The finale even offered up adorable roasted rabbits leaping over a colorful Easter banquet, displaying the morbid humor and charm in unexpected places that make Poon and Fuller’s collaboration such a blessing.

Despite her extensive dabblings in (fictional) cannibalism at Hannibal Lecter’s dinner table, Poon is remarkably kind, thoughtful, and approachable. I caught up with her after her recent appearance at Split Screens Festival’s Hannibal panel in New York, which also featured actor Raul Esparza (Frederick Chilton), several creatives within the Fannibal community, and creator Bryan Fuller himself via Skype (resplendent in a flower crown and fan-created t-shirt of Lecter and protagonist Will Graham sharing an intimate moment). It didn’t take three glasses of honey wine to seal the deal; Poon graciously agreed to share a few sacred words with The Horror Honeys about hungry Gods and even hungrier Fannibals.

Samantha McLaren: Hi, Janice! Thank you so much for talking to the Horror Honeys again!

Janice Poon: I love Horror Honeys for supporting women working in the horror genre… and it’s always a pleasure to talk with you!

SM: When the Honeys last spoke to you for December’s issue of Belladonna, American Gods was yet to air. Since then we’ve had a chance to see more of your culinary delights on the screen. What was your favorite thing to create for this season, and can you give us any hints as to what the Gods might be eating in Season Two?

JP: Although I loved doing the 17th century Irish/English food for Essie [MacGowan’s] story in Episode 1.07, my favorite thing from American Gods’ entire stunning first season was Easter’s party in the season finale. In particular, the Roasting Bunny Leap which was a huge challenge to create but an even bigger challenge to keep fresh over the week of shooting in Toronto’s summer heat.

"When you cook food from a movie or a novel, you kind of make the story live on in your life... Fannibalism, not cannibalism."

SM: Food plays such an important role in so many of life’s rituals, religious or otherwise. Are there any meals you’d like to create that you’re praying make it into future scripts?

JP: With Bryan Fuller at the helm, you just have to stay on your toes with your mind open at all times; he’s the hot volcano erupting with fabulous concepts and it’s up to us, his crew, to capture his ideas. That said, hmm-m-m-m... I’d love to do an epic banquet where gods of all ages and places have gathered to grant Laura Moon and Mad Sweeney true Gods status. But I’d want it hosted by Czernobog to beg the question: is it good or evil?

SM: Were you familiar with Neil Gaiman’s novel before becoming involved with the show? What attracted you to the project?

JP: Yes, I’ve long admired Gaiman’s work but never imagined that American Gods could be filmed. After Hannibal, Bryan Fuller went to American Gods and subsequently brought me along to style the Gods’ food, for which I am forever grateful. Even if I hadn’t known the source material I would have jumped at any opportunity to work with Bryan again.

SM: We must, of course, address the cannibal in the room. It’s been almost two years since Hannibal was last on our screens, and I think I speak for all the fans in saying we feel its absence like a draft. But the Fannibals are surviving, living, and thriving. Were you surprised by how passionate the fan response was and has continued to be since the show ended?

JP: I don’t think anybody realized how avid the fans of Hannibal would be. It is astonishing to everyone that their joyful passion for Hannibal continues unabated. It is, more than anything, extraordinarily gratifying to know your work has been seen, examined, loved and remembered. But you know, this love of Hannibal extends to the crew and actors who made it. We have all gone on to exciting new projects but everyone still misses making Hannibal. It was very, very special.

SM: You recently spoke as part of Split Screens Festival’s Hannibal panel, on the topic of “Hannibal as muse.” Does the show continue to be an inspiration for you?

JP: Working on Hannibal has pushed me to go deeper and higher in all forms of my art, not just food design, enriching my illustrations and my writing. It’s also pushed me onto social media enabling me to stay in touch with the Fannibals (and those now watching American Gods) through Twitter and my Behind-The-Scenes blog, Feeding Hannibal.

SM: You’ve mentioned before that Hannibal’s cast really approached your food with gusto (and they themselves have admitted they sometimes deliberately messed up takes to enjoy a few more bites). The fans love recreating your meals, especially since the release of your cookbook, Feeding Hannibal: A Connoisseur's Cookbook. How do you feel about the enthusiasm with which the Fannibals have embraced your work?

JP: How I adore the Fannibals and the way they have embraced the food in Hannibal, the show, and the cookbook. It is such a wonderful thing to see the photos they share of Hannibal recipes they’ve made. And so gratifying to learn that Hannibal has encouraged timid cooks to burst forth into the kitchen. Or inspired good cooks to inject more fun and fantasy into their meals. I’ve always felt that when you cook food from a movie or a novel, you kind of make the story live on in your life. In our case, Fannibalism, not cannibalism.

SM: In November, you’ll be appearing at FannibalFest in Toronto, where fans will have a chance to attend a special dinner, and watch you demonstrate the proper preparation of sanguinaccio dolce (blood pudding), among other things. What are you most excited about for this event?

JP: Meeting individual fans is what I am looking forward to the most. Especially putting faces to the Twitter handles! It’s a rare opportunity to get to know a whole bunch of people who love the show as much as I do, and to learn what excites and interests them. Also to gush about Mads, Hugh, and Bryan. And everyone, really.

SM: Finally, you’ve said before you don’t watch many scary movies, but do you have a favorite?

JP: OK, all I can think of is Rocky Horror Picture Show and Edward Scissorhands but those films are not terrifying at all. I guess I’d rather laugh than scream. And it’s very hard for me to unsee the really graphic stuff. But working on Hannibal has given me a huge respect for the horror genre which I am just beginning to explore. I’m currently working on a gothic ghost story for children so right now my horror diet is more literary than filmic. Frankenstein is my current.

As the new resident Classics Honey at Belladonna, I certainly wouldn’t turn my nose up at Frankenstein (not to mention I’m a serial Time Warp-er). Many thanks to Janice for speaking to us! You can catch her godly gourmet in the first season of American Gods, available to stream on Starz and Amazon now. And worship at her shrine @FeedingHannibal on Twitter!