Fifty years ago, if you wanted to express your love for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, you had just two options: reread the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or join Led Zeppelin. Today, if you’re a fan of George R.R. Martin’s neo-Tolkien series “A Song of Fire and Ice,” there are infinite ways to channel your fandom, including fan fiction, costume-making, bizarre Tumblr mash-ups, and now dinner parties. This month, The Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook: From Direwolf Ale to Auroch Stew—More Than 150 Recipes from Westeros and Beyond joins a booming trend of unofficial fan-written cookbooks that have sought to capture the culinary spirit of, for example, The Hunger Games (Katniss’s Favorite Lamb Stew with Dried Plums, page 58), Twilight, (Vampire Blood Punch, page 117), and Harry Potter (Treacle Pudding, page 73). But how do you go about devising recipes for someone else’s story? We spoke to Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook author Alan Kistler, best known for his weekly podcast “Crazy Sexy Geeks,” about how you go about concocting meals fit for a Targaryen when it’s not your kingdom.
You’re known as an expert on geek culture. Have you ever written a cookbook?
[Laughs.] No, this is my first time writing a cookbook. I’ve done some critical essays on characters like Superman before, and that’s kind of what Adams Media actually was looking for in this cookbook. With each recipe — similar to their Hunger Games and Harry Potter cookbooks — it’s not just, “Hey, here’s Arya’s Lemon Cakes, ‘cause Arya likes lemon cakes! Here’s the recipe!” They want someone to be able to give a little introduction to each recipe, to give emotional, metaphorical, or story content, in a way that wasn’t too spoiler-y if you haven’t read the book.
What was your process, then? Did you read all the books and take out a highlighter?
I had all of them as PDFs, and I started doing search functions: I would type in various foods, and just went through each book very carefully, knowing that a few foods would be repeated and just writing down where and when did this happen. I also had a friend or two who were huge “Song of Ice and Fire” fans, and I would occasionally ask them, “Did you remember this whole meal with that thing?” I went through each book at least twice, probably in the end four or five times each, just making sure I got all these foods mentioned. I was made aware that there are websites out there that have done this, and there are websites out there that have done their own recipes, and I deliberately did not check them out, although they would have been helpful guides.
Then you didn’t look at the other Game of Thrones cookbook at all?
No, as soon as I was made aware of it, I was like, “Nah, I can’t look at it.”
So you’ve made a list of all the foods and figured out which ones you’re using. What happens then?
Adams Media has a database of recipes. You figure out what matches the kind of food you’re talking about, and in some cases, what can substitute it or what can give a hint of it. I mean, there’s a dish, Khaleesi’s Heart. Obviously, they’re not gonna have a recipe for raw horse heart. So there had to be discussion there. They definitely worked with me when it came to recipes; it wasn’t solely me saying, “Okay, this sounds right.”
What did you end up doing for Khaleesi’s Heart?
Let me actually check that … let’s see: Dothraki Duck, Dothraki Sausage — actually, I think we changed the name for Dothraki Sausage because it sounded too sexual. There are a couple titles where I was like, “We cannot call a food this.” … Here, Khaleesi’s Heart. We got a beef heart that’s cooked up with vegetables and red wine vinegar. You put it into a food processor with lots of vegetables, and then you put it on the grill.
Were there any food or recipes that you just couldn’t make work?
There’s the occasional thing where they talk about a mythical animal, like an auroch. We had to figure out, what is the equivalent of this? And sometimes it works; you can use deer for an auroch. But it definitely changes the context of the introduction to the recipe. If it’s not actually the meat they’re eating, you focus more on what’s the purpose of this scene, since I’m not actually eating bear meat? There are a couple references to dragon-type stuff; if the food was too vague, there wasn’t any place to go with it. Likewise, there are so many mentions of fruit. With one or two of them, we were able to use it, but we’re not going to say, “His recipe is fruit. Step one, buy the fruit. Step two, eat it.” In the end, it’s still a cookbook, let’s have some fun. The Lannisters and the Starks talk about drinking ale, so we have a Lannister IPA and a Direwolf Ale.
Did you find yourself reaching a lot, in terms of generating enough recipes?
There are times where it’s like, okay, this is the fourth version of breakfast I’m talking about. What new original thought can I have concerning breakfast, damn it?
And there are certain meals where there’s definitely a story behind it, when Tyrion is eating a certain meal — with someone, perhaps, who has him captive — there is this whole emotional conflict you can go into. You can even figure out some symbolism of the food, is it matching the feeling of his situation or is it in juxtaposition to the situation? The hardest part is just not being repetitive. You can associate about four different things with Arya remembering her life before things start going to crap. And that works for one food, it might even work for another food, but it doesn’t work for four or five foods. “And this also reminds Arya of Winterfell.” No. Stop it.
There really is a lot of food described in the five books.
It’s absurd. I mean, A Dance With Dragons has so much food in the first damn chapter with Tyrion. Which also brings a problem to the titles. We can’t just call it all Tyiron’s Leg of Lamb and Tyrion’s Steak.
Is lamprey eel actually edible?
We do have lamprey pie. It calls for eels, heads and tails removed. I think lamprey is edible, but it’s a little difficult to work with.
What about the legal stuff? Is there a possibility of being sued over a book like this?
I generally don’t think so. I write about other people’s works all the time, on a weekly basis. It’s not from a storytelling perspective; it’s not me making up a scene of Arya or Ned Stark. I cite the chapter and book that you can find these in.
So you’re thinking of it more as a critical work.
Yeah, it’s the same category. I didn’t think about it so much because I’m the author of the book, not the creator of the concept; they’ve done other books in this series. And again, it’s in no means trying to spoil any story stuff; it’s just referencing this work and choosing how to use food to relate to it.
Are there any other cookbooks based on pop culture that you’ve contemplated developing?
You think of certain things, and you find out inevitably that people have done them. There’s definitely Star Wars cookbooks out there, there have to be Star Trek cookbooks. But I did start thinking about Doctor Who, or superhero comics. Batman’s favorite tea is lapsang souchong, which is also mine. So immediately I thought, I could do the Justice League Cookbook — recipes for everyone from Wonder Woman to the Green Lantern, and Aqua Man’s Atlantean dishes. I think that would be hilarious.