Cooking with Hannibal: Food, Fandom & Participation

Curator's Note

Editorial Note: This is a replacement video since the original video curated, and discussed below, was recently made private by NBC, as were all Hannibal vids produced by the network.

As a programme with a cannibalistic gourmand as its titular character Hannibal has, unsurprisingly, presented an assortment of beautiful dishes across its three seasons on NBC. The lavish presentation of meals contributed to the programme’s unique aesthetics as well as provoking simultaneous feelings of attraction and disgust in viewers; this food and drink may look inviting but it’s probably made from people. Even the beer.

Food stylist Janice Poon was responsible for designing and realising the menus, a process detailed in her blog Feeding Hannibal which featured sketches of the dishes, details of how they were created (quite often the food couldn’t actually be what it was meant to be, forcing Poon to create edible songbirds from marzipan or lung from Italian sausage), and recipes. The blog also included fan photos of recreations of Poon’s recipes or fan-designed homages to Hannibal, referred to as Hannimeals. Although many activities of Hannibal’s fans (or, “Fannibals”) have been acknowledged, more seldom explored is how the creation and consumption of food and drink related to a fan object offer avenues for connection, participation and pleasure. For example, Harry Potter fans have the opportunity to drink Butterbeer at the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London. However, for Fannibals recreating the dishes themselves provides an affective and imaginative connection; the act of finding and purchasing the right ingredients and following a recipe to completion offers a physical connection to the show by allowing fans to follow in Hannibal’s culinary footsteps. Equally, inventing their own dishes offers imaginative opportunities for fans inspired by the show’s emphasis upon the gourmet, allowing the invention of thematic dishes decorated with edible blood spatter or shards of glass.

The opportunities for themed cooking are clearly not applicable to all fandoms. However, the importance of edible content to fans is worthy of further study, whether this includes officially licensed products such as Butterbeer or fan-created meals inspired by shows like Hannibal. In responding to the importance of the culinary in the series and seeking to recreate it, these fans are quite literally ingesting it. Hannibal would approve.


How disappointing but entirely unsurprising that NBC is already taking down its Hannibal videos. This shows so clearly that these videos were only meaningful to NBC as long as they could serve to channel viewers toward the show--now that Hannibal isn't on NBC any longer, these videos are useless to NBC (no matter what value they may have for viewers or as part of conversations such as ours).

Thank you for drawing attention to some of the material fandom practices that surround Hannibal! I think people still perceive fandom activities to consist mostly of fic/art (and maybe attending conventions), and less so as consisting of activities such as cooking. For Fannibals, cooking as fandom practice makes a lot of sense--I remember seeing quite a few people posting pics of what they were eating while watching the finale. I think food plays a large role in many fandoms even when the original text doesn't draw attention to food as much as Hannibal does. When such canonical references are absent, fans often designate certain foods/dishes as character favorites, and referring to or creating this dish can then evoke a whole host of associations (think, for example, of the large choice of fandom teas available on Adagio).

I'm actually more interested in these types of material practice than I am in fanfiction and more artistic fan practices - probably because I lack artistic skill! I tried to make Osso Bucco for the finale but couldnt get the ingredients so gave up, but I've always found it interesting when fans have posted what they're eating or cooking as they watch the series. In the comments thread of the AV Club there's always been this discussion on the individual episodes and this, coupled with Janice Poon's blog, is what made me interested in this. I find it fascinating that fans would discuss this in relation to favourite characters as well - especially in texts where food isn't so central. I wonder whether this is about trying to "know" as much as possible about certain characters.

Thanks for the link to the supercut, Rebecca. I agree with Melanie - the loss of these videos from NBC is disappointing but predictable. As with Melanie, I was unaware of this particular fannish practice, though I was aware that there had been some fannibal arranged events which included fine dining. It's interesting to connect this practice of recreating (legally, obviously) the food on the show with the idea of alignment with Hannibal himself. Is there a similarity here between vampire fiction fans and the drinking of fake blood? To what extent is a subversive but sophisticated pleasure in both cooking and consuming these meals a driving factor in such an activity? Does any of this lead to fans, albeit temporarily, feeling closer to Hannibal himself? My former goth girl heart is loudly telling me that certainly I would gain such pleasures from such an activity, particularly with the theatrical and macabre addition of edible blood and glass. I'm not a big meat-eater, and certainly never eat organs of any description, but after watching the vid, reading your note and writing this reply, I'm now VERY HUNGRY.

Oh definitely. I'm thinking of writing more about this and have found a range of fan cookbooks on Amazon - both official and unofficial - that I'm dying to buy, try and write about. The fact that you could drink Tru Blood (even though it was outrageously expensive) was one of the first instances I can think of for this - if anyone can think of any earlier ones, I'd love to hear them. I think much of this in relation to Hannibal is about the pleasure of eating. Hannibal is a pleasurable show in a range of different ways (!) and I think the physical recreation of the food and the spectacle or the performance is closely linked to that. It is very different to going to visit the Harry Potter studios and buying and drinking the almost obligatory Butterbear with a hundred other people. I wonder too if there are different levels of engagement here - is there more prestige or "capital" in creating a new meal or recipe inspired by Hannibal rather than copying an existing recipe. I wonder if creativity is rewarded here as well?

Your post raises some interesting questions about embodying fandom, or fandom as an embodied practice, especially given the discussions within the show of what it means ingest something, to choose to put a particular thing into one's body. As Kirsty suggests above, might this help fans feel "closer" to Hannibal--or might it help them *become* him (even if only for a little while)? This is an interesting turn, say, on conversations about fannish tattoos and other more permanent forms of body modification, ways of feeling physically closer to a text that performed on/through the body.

I really appreciate this post and the comments, because it's an area of fandom I hadn't really thought much about before, and Hannibal has really made me aware of it. I love the idea of fans preparing meals and eating together as a kind of ritual that mirrors the kind of community-creation/sustaining practice that such meals do in the show as well. These shared meals--so central to Hannibal--strikes me as yet another way in which Hannibal is a "feminine" text in its focus on domestic practices that are communal (as is Will's habitual pet-care, which he shares with Alan as well as the dogs themselves. The domestic practices of both men are established in the pilot, and their shared breakfast seals their domestic bond). And then, of course, this aspect of the text provides yet another point of entry for female fans in particular (a female and feminine-friendly text). Your comments have also made me realize how much food --and the rituals associated with it--have been a part of fan practice. For example, I know that the "coffeeshop fic" is general to all fandoms, but it's central to Klaine (Kurt/Blaine) fandom that I follow because so many of the key scenes between the characters that take place in a coffeeshop. All the fans know their coffee orders ("of course we do") and many have tried their drinks. It's not quite as subversive as drinking fake blood in the goth tradition (I love that, Kirsty!), but it is certainly a way of further internalizing the text and "becoming" its characters.

I actually never really thought about this in terms of the idea of Hannibal as a more feminine or female-friendly text. I think this is really interesting though and now I'm thinking about work on fandom and knitting (Brigid Cherry has done some great stuff on knitting for Doctor Who fans which springs to mind). So many great ideas and ways to develop this. And the domestic scenes as well are key here - the difference between Hannibal's very lavish more public dinner parties and some of the scenes between he and Will in the kitchen etc speak volumes about character and relationship development.

Embodiment of fandom is so fascinating to me. When I was writing this I was thinking of Bethan Jones' work on tattoos and some of the other work on embodying fannish practices. I've been wearing Hannibal earrings and other jewellery for the past few weeks to work and in a very small way, there is something extremely satisfying about wearing my fandom in this way and marking it on my body. It's totally an angle I'd want to explore in researching and writing more about food & fandom.

As KT says, the possibilities for thinking about embodied, experiential fandom are myriad here. This actually puts me in mind of - tangentially - the temporary Pub Sherlock Holmes that publisher Haga Shoten puts together once or twice a year in Japan, with Sherlock Holmes (they're a big publisher of the original works and derivative pastiche) AND Sherlock-themed dishes. But as you say, there's something a bit unique about Hannibal. One place I see it is in the episode names themselves; as in, I'm currently live-blogging my rewatch of the series over on Tumblr, and I'm up to season two - the one with all the courses of Japanese kaiseki meals. That, in turn, brings up my own memories of eating kaiseki while living in Japan, so I've been talking about the titles in terms of the dishes themselves... so that there's, again as we've discussed, a kind of conversation happening between the show and me over food... It's not a very coherent thought, but I think that's because there's just so much to parse and play with here.

The episode titles are so important here I think. I remember being so disappointed when I heard that the back half of season three was going to lose that tradition of naming them after courses or foods. I'm currently planning a Hannibal-inspired trip to Florence and so far, the research has largely consisted of food and drink. I'm really sad for example to find out that apparently Vera Dal no longer exists - there's some interesting discussion about food and tourism in some of the places I've been looking online. Not necessarily fan spaces but tourist ones (like Trip Advisor) where people are talking about Hannibal (although mostly the movie) and food and drink locations in Florence.

That sounds like so much fun! And puts me in mind of Speedy's in London (and the way they've interacted with the fandom, oftentimes with more enthusiasm than the show's producers, a bit in the way Janice Poon does on her blog).

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