Anyone who has read George R.R. Martin's "A Song Of Ice and Fire" series, or watched HBO's Game of Thrones knows there's one essential ingredient that makes the world so memorable: the incest. If there's something else that every reader (or viewer) remembers, though, it's probably the food. If the characters aren't eating "crackling hot meat right off the spit," or being described as having sausage fingers, they're eating, or talking about eating. And some of the most important moments in the series happen around the dinner table.
It was only a matter of time before someone hooked into that, and turned Game of Thrones into a cookbook... Which is exactly what author Alan Kistler did. Leafing through the novels, Kistler put together a massive cookbook that includes everything from Arya Starks' Lemon Cakes and Three-Finger Hobb's Meat Stew, to Khaleesi's Heart and even cocktails like Tears of Lys. We chatted with Kistler about the recently released book (just in time for the Season 2 premiere!), how sick he is of capons, and the chances for a 'Luck' themed cookbook next:
MTV Geek: So it took me about three months to read A Song of Ice and Fire... How many times did you have to read through the books to properly write a cookbook based on the series? And how sick of it are you now?
Alan Kistler: To help me track down and then keep track of all the instances of food, I got PDFs of all the books and used the search function. I skimmed back and forth through each book a couple of times to make sure I didn't miss anything, and certainly re-read many chapters in order to remind myself of the context. It was enjoyable but also definitely work and afterwards I needed a good few weeks of not talking about Game of Thrones at all just to clear my head. I'm good now, though, and ready for Season 2.
Geek: What's it like trying to concoct recipes for fictional food? Obviously, some of it has real world equivalents, or is very simple. But there are some dishes only vaguely described, or mentioned once.
AK: When something was vaguely described, that just gave some room to be creative. There's no description of what the ale in Winterfell tasted like, but that doesn't mean we can't imagine what "Dire Wolf Ale" might be and what kind of drink seems suitable for such a family that's supposed to have dire wolf blood in its veins. In other cases, if a simple fruit was mentioned, that got interpreted into fruit flavored ice cream. It felt like it would be more fun to do that instead of having a page that just listed a few fruits and vague mentions of salad with a note reading "and there was this other food, go enjoy."
Geek: Rough estimate, in order to write this book, how many capons did you have to suck the flesh off of, as the juices slowly dripped down your beard?
AK: I make sure to suck the flesh off no more than 3.14 capons every hour, followed by a lamprey pie.
Geek: I noticed you avoided making the Dornish dishes too insanely spicy, though most of the books are spent talking about how they rip up your digestive system. Did you experiment with anything standing in for Dornish peppers, before retreating to cayenne?
AK: Spices are great, but you don't want to dismiss people who might be sensitive to such things and will have a coughing fit the minute they take a bite. So we have a basic level of spices based on past experiences with these recipes and, of course, if you have a stronger tongue or a more adventurous spirit, you should feel free to turn up the level.
Geek: You also avoided having a lot of recipes made out of swans, or with birds flying out of them. What, you don't think the home cook can handle that?
AK: I'm actually rather fond of swans. They grow up thinking they're ugly ducklings and then they get hot when they're older, thus giving them the moral right to laugh at ducks from high school who weren't smart enough to be born with the proper genetics. It's a story as old as time.
Geek: Seriously, though, other than those, are there any recipes that it just didn't seem worth making for the book, or didn't pan out the way you wanted them to?
AK: Stallion hearts are difficult to get a hold of and not great raw. So as much as we all appreciate accurate portrayals of certain things, that was something we felt needed to be reinterpreted. Likewise, I wouldn't suggest actually finding a poison known as the Tears of Lys when our mixed drink option is usually far less lethal.
Geek: Let's say I'm hosting a Game of Throne premiere party... What are some choice recipes from the book you think would go great with the season premiere?
AK: I personally think a premiere party should divide itself into houses or basic kingdoms. To help you do that, there's a guide in the back of the book that lists all the recipes by region and country. So at a party, three people can be from the North and bring Northern dishes, a couple of people can be from across the sea and bring the appropriate dishes, A couple of folks can be from the House Lannister and bring their region's foods. Oooh, those Lannisters. So cunning! So manipulative!
Geek: Do you think you'd want to tackle another cookbook, or did this scratch that itch? Maybe "The Unofficial 'Luck' Cookbook" - just spitballing.
AK: I've been asked this several times. No one's approached me with any interest about such a project yet, but I'm only half-kidding when I say I have ideas for a Doctor Who Cookbook and a Justice League Cookbook. I would suggest a Star Trek Cookbook, but then I'd just write "turn on your replicator" on every page and that seems a bit repetitive after 20 or 30 pages.
Geek: Just to wrap up, how do you think writing this book has increased (or, you know, decreased) your understanding and enjoyment of the books and show?
AK: For a good week, I was sort of worn out on the entire saga. But after a nice recovery period and some Dire Wolf ale, I was revved up again and, strangely, I now find myself remembering certain tastes when I re-watch episodes or read over certain passages from the book. When someone's commenting on their breakfast, I nod and say "that IS a pretty good dish, actually." Which is just plain geeky fun.
The Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook: From Direwolf Ale to Auroch Stew—More Than 150 Recipes from Westeros and Beyond (F+W Media, April 2012) by Alan Kistler is currently on sale!