This week’s blog is from Martha De Laurentiis, one of Hannibal’s executive producers.
Two cannibals are having dinner. “I hate my father-in-law,” says one. The other replies, “So just eat the noodles.”
Some of my favorite scenes in the series involve Hannibal throwing little dinner parties. No matter how twisted his drives or brutal his crimes, Hannibal is a man who chooses his friends and associates carefully, is eager to share his taste and passion for food with them and prepares his meals meticulously and lovingly. And of course, the scenes have an extra charge because you’re never entirely sure what the guests are being served…
My husband Dino’s passions were family, film, food and football (i.e. soccer), not always in that order. Sharing food was an important way he expressed his appreciation and affection for friends and family. When Dino came to America in the late 1960s, opening his home, and especially his kitchen, to people he respected was a big way he ingratiated himself with the American film community and crossed any cultural divide.
Back then, coffee was something that came pre-ground out of a can and was boiled in a percolator. Italian food meant spaghetti with red sauce and meatballs. Soon, people realized that if they were having a meeting at Dino’s, they’d be offered, even badgered into, a cup of espresso or cappuccino hand prepared on an exotic machine from freshly ground coffee beans flown in from some distant location. A business lunch or dinner at his house was “the best Italian restaurant in town.”
(Dino & Martha with a cup of coffee)
(Martha and Baz Luhrmann sharing a cup of coffee)
Now, good coffee is everywhere, and tasty, authentic Italian food is widely available in America, but I’m still lucky to have THE best Italian chef with me at home. Luigi Ferraioli, known as Gigi to friends and guests, is a gifted Neapolitan chef who came to work for Dino in 1983 to open DDL Foodshow in Beverly Hills. Dino’s dream was to share what he ate at home with everyone else. He opened lavish food emporiums in both New York and Los Angeles, bringing talented chefs, bakers and pizzaioli from Italy and importing food from all over the world that was beloved by Italians but not then widely available in America.
(Dino & Arnold at DDL Foodshow opening, Beverly Hills, 1983)
Good producers have to adopt the attitude from “Field of Dreams”: build it and they will come. The films and television we most cherish are often unlike anything that came before. A filmmaker has to believe that if they feel really passionate about something and put a lot of love, sweat and tears into executing it, audiences probably will appreciate it too.
In this case, people came to DDL Foodshow in droves, to look at and sample the glorious food, all presented with a bit of Hollywood showmanship. But as beautiful and tasty as it was, the idea of a really expensive little bottle of extra virgin olive oil or balsamic vinegar, or fresh mozzarella that cost many times what a block of cheese at the grocery store did just didn’t make sense to enough people to keep it in business. Dino literally lost a fortune on those two stores. Yet, by helping expose a bunch of American food-lovers to authentic Italian cuisine, he gained credit from numerous food critics as helping change the culinary landscape in this country. And, most importantly, Gigi has stayed on with us.
(Gigi with Easter breads)
(Gigi teaching Kingsley, Thomas Harris’ cook, the art of pasta and meats Italian style)
The most challenging and satisfying part of producing entertainment is bringing together a group of people of diverse talents to share a common vision. Everyone involved in a project needs to put forth skill, enthusiasm, collaboration and hard work for a significant stretch of very long days. A unified team, even a surrogate family. I’ve continued Dino’s tradition, using meals to establish relationships, explore our varying tastes, connect and express my friendship and gratitude. On almost every project, I can look back to a meal - usually one cooked by myself personally or Gigi - as a point at which I felt that a meeting of the minds had been achieved.
(Neapolitan potato salad)
For me, the turning point Hannibal meal occurred soon after Bryan Fuller joined the project. Bryan and Katie O’Connell from Gaumont came to my home in L.A. Apropos of Hannibal, we shared a lovely bottle of chianti. We started with our signature Neapolitan pizza Margherita. On to linguini with white truffle butter sauce and 2” thick veal chops. I learned later that Bryan was steering clear of both gluten and meat, but he ate both out of politeness. I hope it was tasty enough to be worth the lapse! We ate outside under the lemon trees and talked creative ideas and personal stories well into the night. I went to bed that night well-sated and feeling optimistic we were at the beginning of something great.
(Linguine w/ butter sauce and white truffles)
As you might imagine from the show and the naming of the episodes, Bryan is also a big foodie, so the development and production of Hannibal has involved a number of truly memorable meals. Our daily responsibilities are most importantly focused on getting things done to a high creative standard and making sure we’re on budget and on schedule. But all the principal producers stayed involved in craft service, varying the food trucks and arranging for special treats for break times to show the crew we appreciate their hard work.
(Janice Poon, our Food Stylist, had us all hungry)
Our first week of shooting was nights, so a special coffee truck was much needed and appreciated. Also, the chip truck was a crew favorite, especially their poutine, a French Canadian delicacy (which, for me, never quite seemed more special than its component parts of French fries, cheese curd and gravy). Needed Liquid-Plumr on those days!
I went to Toronto frequently during the seven-month shooting schedule, and it was my joy to cook for cast and crew members for little thank-you parties, even on the set out of the craft service truck. Filmmaking is Murphy’s Law in action. There are so many moving parts, no matter how organized and vigilant you are, nothing is ever quite as it should be. With the heroic efforts of all involved, every little hiccup along the way can be overcome, but it requires a crew that is loyal and happy to go the extra mile. Cooking and serving connects you to everyone. And I hope, helps demonstrate that we’re all in it together.
(Hannibal invites to cast dinner)
Many thanks to Joey Craft Service (Joe McGurik), who was always positive, always cooking and always feeding. Joey tolerated our meddling, embraced our recipes and was an awesome cooking partner when I decided to make pizza for a crew of 75.
Pizza is always a real winner, and if I do say so myself, I have a fantastic crust recipe. My sauce is easy, but tasty, and fresh basil and lots of shredded mozzarella complete a simple, but surprisingly lovely flatbread-style pizza. The trick is to first put the pizza pans directly on the floor of the oven or depending on the oven, the rack directly above the exposed heat coils. You have to watch it carefully: the first 10 minutes or so will crust the bottom of the pizza, but once that happens, move it up to a middle or top rack to prevent the crust from burning but allow the topping to finish cooking, until the cheese is bubbly and well-cooked.
(Notice I rolled the dough USING a nice bottle of Chianti!)
Near the end of the seven months, we were all breathlessly awaiting Bryan’s rewrite of the final episode. I took the lull in the action as an opportunity to teach my new friend, associate producer Loretta Ramos, some home recipes. We made a double batch of fried mozzarella and paccheri with sauce cooked from fresh tomatoes and sent a care package to Bryan, who was holed up in front of his computer.
Shooting the season’s final episode, number 113, we were back to nights around the stages in Mississauga. The crew was diligently slogging through a blizzard, when NBC sent their special thanks, a fish and chips truck. Greasy burgers and greasier and yummier fish and chips significantly brightened that night. All hail!
(NBC food truck arrived)
Now that we’ve been picked up by NBC for another season, I’m excited at the prospect of more memorable meals with our incredibly gifted cast and crew and numerous new creative challenges. In Italian, the same word - “ospite” - is used to mean both “host” and “guest.” As someone who grew up in Ohio learning the language, that struck me as odd, but the duality seems especially appropriate to the job of producer. You bring together people you respect, trust and love who share your passion for a story, but at a certain point, you become as much of a guest as anyone else, the work becomes bigger than anyone involved.
(Gnocchi with tomato sauce)
And to extend the metaphor, we’ve been working as hosts sharing our love for Hannibal, and now we’ve become guests in your living rooms. I’m especially grateful for the enthusiasm, and hospitality, the fans have given back to us. I hope you’re looking forward to the next episodes and next season as much as I am. Buon appetito!