Thursday, 20 June 2013

Ep 13: Savoureux - Tete de Veau

Stag hewn.


The movie screen;

The back of your mind:

Head rolls.


Stark.  Raven.  Mad.

We are almost at the final wrap. This last episode is nightmarish – not because of anything in the script -  it’s because we are also shooting tons of scenes from other episodes. It’s our last chance to pick up scenes and inserts and reshoots needed to edit into the final cut of all episodes.

We’ve been shooting now for 7 months and my level of paranoia has been edging into Will-territory: imagining what trouble that evilmeister Hannibal will cook up now. He seemed like such a nice low-maintenance guy back in Episode 1 when we first started shooting…

But now it’s the last episode. So important to hit this one out right of the park.

Waiting is a mind game

Waiting for the script to come in, my mind goes to the Edge of Foodstyling Darkness. What would the worst thing be? Brain. Raw brain being cut into and cooked. Because, guess what – even Zeller’s brain is about 3x bigger than a cow’s brain and 10x that of sheep or pig. No natural animal substitute will do for the human brain. 

I had done a bit of footwork in the brain-faking department last month when I got a call from the Set Decorator of a zombie/vampire series being shot in town. Enrico needed for brains to stock an immense “Brain Shed”. Sort of a zombie’s dream Costco: rows and rows of shelves of brains stored in glass jars in a vast warehouse. It would be shot like one of those Ed Burtynsky photographs except instead of blue-clad factory workers, it would be endless rows of brains in jars. How many brains did they need? Thousands. When did they need them? Next week. 

I worked around with the costs on various possibilities til the dollars made everyone come to their senses and the scene was dropped. 

And I turned my attentions back to my favorite omnivore.

So I’m checking my email every hour expecting the script supervisor to send me the production draft. There’s a production meeting today but I wasn’t called in.  So I’m thinking everybody is on board except me. I feet like when I was four and my whole family got into the station wagon for a weekend drive, accidentally (?) leaving me behind. Luckily for them, I was still sleeping when they dashed back for me. Or I really would have made them pay.

I call the Prop Master.

No, there is no food in the current outline draft of the last episode.

Wha…no food???!!!

I am relieved but slightly miffed. Move along, no food scene to see here, m’am. Fine. Well maybe there was so much plot to pack into the last episode to create that all-important end-of-season cliffhanger that there wasn’t enough bandwidth to luxuriate in a Hanibalicious food scene.

But I keep checking the scripts as the revisions keep coming in. A dinner scene after all! Hannibal is dining with Bedelia at her place. And he's bringing Take-out.

Relax, the guy has gotta eat.
Tete de Veau Roulade (Rolled Veal Head) under glass

Then Bryan Fuller emails:  Hannibal may be serving veal in a scene with his therapist. Any suggestions for veal recipes and fun veal details?

I suggest: What about the cheek of that veal, Abigail? Bruised -- I mean, braised in sherry and mushrooms...

Jose checks in: Also smoked with dry hay, like a funerary ritual where the dead where burnt. But here hay imparts a unique smokey flavor to the meat and to the room! The smell of death but also the smell of a reborn, you become something else by burning and becoming part of the cycle of life!  Veal head! Will be awesome to do that! Paul Bocuse has a great recipe! Whole head on the table, boil! With the broth....amazing!

Robyn, his assistant sends me a recipe "Tête de Veau en Sauce Verte"  by Paul Bocuse in  French with a Google translation into English. She curses Google Translate but I love it. To me, Google Translate English is like Japanese T-shirt English and it makes me giggle.

Great! I say. The pale skin of the Bocuse preparation of poached boned veal head would look delicate and deadly against the parsley sauce, like a corpse on the cemetery lawn.
my production sketch for Tete de Abigail

Smoke from the hay-smoking is nixed because of the problems it would create in shooting. Problems in shooting? This never seems to hold anyone back from asking the impossible but I now know where the demarcation of difficulty is No Smoking. Period.

Pulling Tete de Veau out of a hat

I turn my attention to putting together the Tete de Veau while I’m still working on food for  Episode 12. In Paris, every other shop carries Tete de Veau and you can pop in and buy a couple slices on a whim. But this ain’t Paris, Toto. Now, with limited time, do I really want a knife fight with a whole veal head? Pig head, maybe. Cow head, not so much.

I make a call to Mike, the pate guy at Sanagan’s down in Kensington. He has cheerfully saved me before by providing an emergency Head Cheese within 24 hours so I’m hoping he can make me another miracle with Tete de Veau. I explain the size and shape and the next day, what should appear but 2.5 kilos of rolled poached “Tete de Veau” mocked up from a giant pork belly he luckily had in the cooler.
A slice o' Tete with parsley sauce, quail eggs, gerkin slices, capers, red potatoes, red onions, thyme and salt

The shoot is the usual complication of shooting on location. I set up my kitchen in the laundry room of the rambling suburban home they have rented and redecorated as Bedelia duMaurier’s home office. I try not to get lost as I run back and forth within the warren walls created in corrugated cardboard sheeting (put up all over the house to protect the walls and woodwork from us film cretins) up and down the stairs from the set, to my basement prep area, to my car, to the craft table, and around and around in a circular house a million miles away from anything familiar.

But we get the shot.

I have a debate with the director about whether or not to have a skull on the platter of Tete de Veau. I think it needs the skull to indicate that the bud vases are actually bones. And I like the head/skull relationship. And also because I think Hannibal and Bedelia have this kind of pissing match about who’s cooler and who’s scarier. The director says the skull is out so it’s out. He’s OK with the lengths of thigh bones though so I email continuity photos to Fuller and we shoot the thing fairly smoothly in spite of the added difficulty of running the resets up and down the stairs and the obstacle course of cables, crew and carts between my prep area and the set.

Tray of Tete - Skull relegated to the back supply bin
Four hours later, we have the shot. I pack up my stuff  and load out of the location. Out of the drizzling cold and into the car. Then back to my studio to curry the pasta for tomorrow. Chiltern will be coming in so we will be back at the sound stage to shoot the curried guts for Episode 11.

There are lots of little pickup shots and insert shots to do over the next few weeks before final wrap. But Laila, one of the regular dailies, is going to handle them. I teach her how to say Pig Lung and Pig Spleen in Cantonese. And let go.

At last - an end to the madness.

Wrap is a mixed blessing. It’s great to finally be able to sleep but it’s sad to say goodbye to the assortment of idiosyncratic people you have worked with day and (mostly) night toiling together over something that may go unseen or unappreciated or most certainly misunderstood.

But thanks to overwhelming response from all you wonderful Fannibals, foodies and friends, my work -- our work has not only been seen, but appreciated well, and understood.

Thanks to you, Hannibal got renewed and production on Season Two starts this August.
We will all be back for seconds!

Thank you.

Next Week: Pictures and recipes from our Hannibal Pop-up Dinner: wish you had been there!


To come: at long last...the lowdown on the High Life Eggs!


  1. thank you for those posting ;) enjoying the work you do very much, I feel like cooking after every episode! I was just telling my buddy after watching the season final how awesome it would be to have a cooking book then I found your blog :) all the best .

    1. Thanks for finding me...during the hiatus I will be posting more recipes to keep you cooking til Season Two!

  2. Thanks a lot for your incredible work and this insightful blog that I really appreciate. Your unique dishes really bring this facet of Hannibal's Character to life. I hope to see more of it next year in season 2! Regards!

    1. We start shooting Season Two in August - Yippeee! More food lore and gore to come!!!! Hope you'll be watching...

  3. I can't say how thrilled I've been every week to come and read your blogs after the episodes; it's a perfect digestif to the hectic nature of the show. Now that it's been safely picked up for a second season, though, is there word that you are going to get to work on season two, or is it way too early in pre-production to even begin to discuss that?

    1. Ouch, you sure know how to ask the painful question. The food stylist is hired by the Props Master and that person has not been hired yet. So I have no idea if I'll be back on season two. Anything can happen in the fickle world of film-making. But here's hoping...

  4. i love your blog! as a culinary student and a big fan of the show, finding this and reading all of your posts was the highlight of my day. i hope you keep them coming during the off season!

    1. Thanks, Dan. I will be posting recipes and nonsense during the hiatus. I hope you will keep cooking and good luck in your culinary career. There are few things as meaningful and memorable as a well-made meal. Symbolism and rituals aside, dinner is a pleasure that comes every day and lasts an hour. As cooks, its quality and fate is in our hands.

  5. Thank *you*!
    I've always loved cooking but my passion had waned a bit due to busier and busier days and a flat with a terrible kitchen, but every time I watched the show and then came here to check on the recipes, I was reminded of how many wonderful things one can do in a kitchen and I was back experimenting new recipes in no time. I believe my flatmate is thinking of sending you a thank you card!
    I've always been a fan of the book/movie series, but what really convinced me to watch this show were the beautiful food stills I kept finding online. I'm amazed at the amount of passion, dedication and creativity you put in your work. The past few weeks I have waited for updates on this blog with almost as much trepidation as I was experiencing for the actual episodes and many of your recipes have made their way in my recipe book.
    I was planning to do something extravagant for my next birthday and I have settled on a Hannibal themed dinner (no people except my guests will be involved, I promise!) since I would have come to the pop-up dinner in a heartbeat hadn't I lived half a world away. The success of my dinner party will be all thanks to you!
    Your fantastic work hasn't gone unseen or unappreciated by us Fannibals, I promise. You were brilliant and I can't wait to see more of your great ideas in season 2.
    I hope you have a lovely day.

    1. Wow - thank YOU! Your letter has made my day lovely indeed. It's great to hear that your enjoyment of Hannibal has spilled over to your dinner table. And good luck on your Hannibal dinner. I will be posting more recipes so I hope I can publish some you like in time for your party. Happy Birthday!

  6. Dear Miss Poon, thank you so much for your work in the series and for your posts here. Your blog has been my 2nd favorite thing about the show (only surpassed by the episodes themselves).

    I look forward to the 2nd season and to more fabulous dishes by you. Thanks again!

    1. Thanks for taking the time to express your enthusiasm. Here's hoping I get hired back for Season 2 or you will have to put up with my angry episodic posts on how I would have done it better. (OK, just kidding - but that would be a good blog...)

  7. Congrats! Rest up for season two!

    1. Thanks Joshua. I hope to get lots of painting and writing done over the summer while I wait to see if I actually get the season 2 gig.

  8. Looking forward to Season 2.
    I love the show and for my part it hasn't gone unseen (and I tell everybody I know about it).
    Yo did an amazing job!

    1. Thank you for watching and spreading the word! It was a great gig and although i whined a lot, I loved every minute. It's an amazing show to work on.