Claire Richards Describes Making Westeros' Food For House Of The Dragon - Exclusive Interview

With the release of "House of the Dragon," the world and history of Westeros feels a little more filled in. The fantasy world created by George R.R. Martin becomes a feast for the eyes thanks to HBO, and there's no shortage of people to help make this universe feel lived in. The actors get the lion's share of attention, and while they certainly do an admirable job on the series, there are hundreds of other people working on each episode to ensure everything looks as pristine as possible. 

One of those hard-working individuals is Claire Richards, who worked as a set decorator on the first season of the fantasy show. As such, it was her responsibility to make sure the sets reflected the history of the season, and a big part of that involved getting the food to look and feel just right. 

There are plenty of festive moments throughout "House of the Dragon" Season 1, such as the big hunt in Episode 3, "Second of His Name," as well as the pre-wedding ceremony in Episode 5, "We Light the Way." In an exclusive interview with Tasting Table, Richards went in-depth on what went into ensuring the food looked just right for such a monumental production.

Looking toward history to inspire House of the Dragon

What was your primary inspiration for the food and dining decor? Were there any specific time periods in history you look toward for inspiration?

It was mainly to do with something that would shock a little bit. When we've got the goats' heads and the eyes and all those grueling, gruesome dishes of blackened chickens and birds and things like that, it was to try and get an effect so it didn't look too dull — something that was quite vibrant and worked with the color schemes of the characters, but also to throw a bit of a different edge to it so that it didn't look too normal or boring. 

In terms of research, when you look back at the different ages through the medieval and before, the set's a lot more opulent, so we were going back towards Roman times and Greek times. We were trying to go with what they could get from the surrounding areas, earth-type qualities of foods, but also putting a bit of "Game of Thrones" onto it at the same time.

Have any Easter eggs gone into the development of the food? Has there been anything that connects "House of the Dragon" to "Game of Thrones?"

There's been a couple of little things. One of them could have been to do with a lemon cake that Rhaenyra was eating in Episode 5. That was back in the day when they were doing "Game of Thrones," and they liked the lemon cake that has the actual pieces of lemon on the top of them, so they're referred to that. We tried to mix up some of the tables in terms of dressing. I wanted to make them look more like a painting or a composition and try not to go too much into the grapes and hanging of things like that. There were a few little elements from before, but nothing specific that I had in mind. 

Different approaches with House of the Dragon compared to Game of Thrones

I imagine you spoke with people who worked on "Game of Thrones" before coming on to "House of the Dragon." Was there a different approach you took to the food compared to the two shows?

We were very much a different team and because we were pre-"Game of Thrones," we were trying to establish a new world for them [while] also having elements of what people would recognize from the force in terms of hunts and big feasts and things like that. It does show that there are many layers to their dining tables, but through "Game of Thrones," it looked a little bit simpler in terms of when they were on the road, or Westeros, when they were out in the markets. 

When we had more of the banquets and the wedding in this season, we could go a little bit further with that and make it a little bit bigger — not too high in terms of the Victorian times, where they would layer and do very high displays of food. We tried to layer it with our dishes, so when you shot it, you could have different levels to look up, and across, and down. In the wedding, we need to keep it quite low level, because of the eye contacts of the actors and where the camera was. We've got the "House of Dragon's" version of food going on.

What's the process of actually cooking the food, especially for something as massive as the pre-wedding ceremony in Episode 5?

We have a wonderful home economist — Catherine — who worked very closely with us. She's got an amazing team of people, and she comes with all of her crew and food. The prep time is generally taken up by doing mood boards and working out what would work for each different scene that's happening in terms of food. When she's prepping and dressing for that, she's got a couple of hundred extras at a time. 

She's got a big old marque at the back, making sure that all this food is processed and running through speedily and smoothly to make sure that nobody's waiting on her. She's amazing. It's almost like a catering tent out of the back, so we have big ovens. If there's something like the heads or the pigs that need roasting, then they might come to us independently, but quite often, everything else she puts together herself with her team.

The scale of some of the food scenes

Is it all about the visuals in designing the food, or are there actual recipes to make sure it tastes good?

For me, it's visual. I'm always about the visual and trying to make it a bit more interesting and trying to add elements of it to spruce it up a little bit. When there were things like the pigeons ... there were all sorts of birds and different skulls of animals that we had, but I was trying to layer that with earthy flower ornamentation, dried elements from the surrounding countryside. That was my part of it. 

[I made] sure that the colors  complemented each other so it wasn't anything that stood out too strongly from one another, so they really blended well. From Catherine's point of view, in terms of being the chef, she would make sure that if anything was going to be eaten by the actors, it all has to go through whether they're vegan, vegetarian, they eat meat, and how much they will eat and how much you're going to see them eat. 

When it comes to that, then she'll [need] some really good things up her sleeve to make sure that they're edible if they look awful. We did have to do some oysters at one point and try and make sure that they were vegan, so they were made from mushrooms, and they looked amazing.

What's been the largest food undertaking on the series so far?

In terms of seating the banquet, it would be the wedding. There was a really big-scale hunt that was in previous episodes. We had massive fires out with all the tents, which were incredible. I don't know if you saw them so much, but they were a pyramid shape, and they had all meat around them and fires, and there was all a lot of food prep going on. That looked really great. There were people having to carry in trays of food into the tent, and then we came back to the interior of the tent, and that was very much all seated again. The two biggest scales were the exterior of the hunt and the interior of the wedding.

Have there been any major obstacles to setting a scene you had to overcome?

There was the odd occasion where we had to move certain dishes out of direct contact with the actors because they may have not looked particularly pleasing to them. Visually, I want to see them central, and Catherine would as well. When we have to move things around like that, it's a bit like, "Oh, that's a shame." You do get to see them. There's those things who maybe don't think about and sometimes, if you need to roast a hog there and they're not the size that you need, then there's a lot of running around trying to find the right size and shape and availability and make sure it's all cooked in time. 

In particular, when we were doing some reshoots in the beginning of the year, dates were changing, through COVID, and people were being able to shoot, and people weren't being able to shoot. We had to really work quite closely on monitoring that and do some things last minute. There was quite a lot of challenging times for everyone — Catherine mainly, because she was having to pull all the food together, and the last thing you want to do is waste anything.

Different cuisines for different regions of Westeros

When designing meals do you take into consideration different regions and how their cuisines might differ?

That starts out with the research side of things. Catherine will do her research, and we do ours to look at what's authentically correct or is ... visually pleasing, but then something that is really well-known in a particular area so you know that when you go to get some leaves or nuts or fruits, that you know that there would be [those ingredients] from that part of the world. 

You're trying to stay indigenous to that area. You need to make sure that we are using things that don't stand out as being not from that period or of not from that country. When we were doing some things in Cornwall, we worked closely with the local network of people to make sure that the fish that we were using or anything around the land didn't cross-contaminate.

When we were finishing with all the seafood and the sea fish, it came from that area, and it went back to those people in that area to make sure that everything was done really professionally to make sure that nothing got contaminated by what we were bringing in. You have to think about those things as well with, for instance, if you brought fish in, and you are working at a location that's got really ancient stones, and you're trying to do a fish market,  you can't let the oil seep from the fish onto the stone because it could damage it. 

There's all those things that you think about, which isn't always just about the food and how it looks. It's about the environment, as well.

What do you think dragon meat or a dragon egg might taste like?

Chewy is my first thing I would think of. I would imagine the meat is probably chewy and a bit bitter. I don't know why I think that, but that's what makes me feel that's what it would be like. Not sure about an egg. That'll probably take a while to get through, I imagine.

"House of the Dragon" Season 1 airs new episodes on HBO and HBO Max every Sunday.

This interview has been edited for clarity.