With insanely caloric concoctions like “Chili Four Loko,” the YouTube show Epic Meal Time has become a runaway hit. The gluttonous creators chat with Marlow Stern about heading to TV. Plus, watch their craziest feasts.
Like most tales of greatness, this one started with a Wendy’s burger and the sweet sounds of John Tesh.
Back in 2007, Sterling Toth filmed his hulking pal, Harley Morenstein, devouring a six-patty burger topped with 18 strips of bacon. He set the nosh to the theme song from Terminator and uploaded the video to YouTube, where, much to their surprise, it collected thousands of hits.
Almost two years later, Morenstein and Toth’s friends spotted a local contest online to create a John Tesh rap video. Since the duo had experience directing music videos for local rap artists in their hometown of Montreal, they decided to enter, and their hilarious video, set to the NBA on NBC basketball sports theme, took first place. They used the $5,000 prize money to buy an expensive videocamera, and Epic Meal Time was born.
Since October 2010, the two guys, joined by their friends—and the occasional attractive female—have posted a video every week to their YouTube account, where, backed by a booming orchestral score that would make Hans Zimmer blush, they cook up gargantuan meat-based creations with staggering amounts of calories and fat. Their unwholesome monstrosities have included Chili Four Loko—a bacon trough filled with chili and the alcoholic/caffeinated drink, and the TurBaconEpic Thanksgiving, which consisted of a turkey, duck, chicken, Cornish hen, and quail stuffed into a 20-pound pig. The burly, 25-year-old Morenstein acts as the show’s host (at 6’6”, the ex-substitute teacher bears an uncanny resemblance to Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger), while 27-year-old Toth directs behind the scenes.
The show has become a viral sensation, with each installment racking up millions of YouTube views. The fellas (don’t try to call them foodies) recently appeared on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, signed with The Gersh Agency and Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, and are shopping their show to a variety of TV networks. The co-creators of Epic Meal Time, Harley Morenstein and Sterling Toth, chatted with The Daily Beast about upsetting PETA and their show’s big future.
So how did Epic Meal Time grow to become such a behemoth?
Harley Morenstein: We had gone out this past summer to make a video of a ridiculous pizza, and it was supposed to be a one-time thing. We set it up so we put all these burgers on this pizza, and when all was said and done, we had it finished and started to edit the video, and [Sterling and I] were like, “Whoa. This could be popular. This might get 30,000 views.” We decided to come up with a name, Epic Meal Time, reserved a domain name and YouTube channel, and when the views were at 100,000, we were like, “Oh shit.” We did one two weeks later, which was The Angry French Canadian, which got tons of exposure in Canada.
Sterling Toth: It was on news channels, on radio stations, and Xbox Live featured our video as one of their Videos of the Week. That was exciting for us, cause we’re gamers. So we said, “Shit man, we got a cooking show!”
Who are all the guys involved with Epic Meal Time?
Morenstein: There’s Sterling behind the camera [a Canon 7D]; me in front of it; Alex Perrault, or as we call him, “Muscles Glasses,” who is our main eater; Tyler Lemco who looks like Vin Diesel and is essentially one of the eaters; Josh Elkin, who has been our primary chef of late and the show is filmed in his kitchen; David Huff, who is our sous chef; and there’s Amir Atari, who steps up and cooks meals as well.
The meals you cook up, despite their size, seem professionally made. Do any of you have any real culinary experience?
Morenstein: No, no. Some of us watch Food Network, some of us have worked at restaurants. I was a waiter at a racquetball club. It was the worst job ever. Sterling also worked as a waiter. No one has any chef skills. We like to keep it stupid.
How does this greasy show jive with Canadian food culture?
Morenstein: Well, Quebec culture where we are in Montreal, it’s excellent. There’s a couple food shows that are big on greasy foods, and we’ve got the poutine, which is a Quebec delicacy, with gravy, French fries, and cheese curds. There are 50-cent hot dogs and greasy burgers everywhere. People in Montreal love it. Everyone’s trying to watch their weight. We’ve made ourselves into freaks by being the only ones who are upping our cholesterol.
You’ve been described by PETA as “nasty” and “gluttonous.” Do you think of yourselves as rebels fighting against the current health food craze?
Morenstein: That’s actually what we’re going to name our first rap album: Epic Meal Time: Nasty and Gluttonous. I always believe in people being passionate about whatever they do. I actually don’t know much about PETA other than that they go to extremes to get their message across. At one point, I remember reading one of the top guys at PETA said the life of an ant meant the same to him as the life of his children. This is like an actual PETA quote. And another time I remember they showed an ad with a barbecued chicken on a plate, and the ad said, “Just like the Holocaust. PETA.” Wow. Stick to the [ads] where you guys got Bieber or some butt-naked rapper.
Toth: They got their thing, whatever. It’s not just PETA. We get messages from other people about how vulgar we are or how much we’re eating. They can bash us all they want, let’s just make sure they link up to our videos.
How do you develop the themes for each episode?
Morenstein: We like to theme it. Our Valentine’s Day one was Hearts and Chocolates. We sit down and plan the next three weeks and think, “What’s a good meal? What do we like to eat?” So for Thanksgiving, we thought a crazy meal was a Turducken [a duck stuffed into a chicken stuffed into a turkey], so how could we make it crazier? We could wrap it in bacon. We could put more birds in it. We could put it in a pig. It snowballs, and then it mutates. And we’re left with this task and we’re like, “Shit. We’ve gotta go buy 70 pounds of bacon tomorrow.”
Are you guys stoned when you’re cooking up these crazy things?
Morenstein: [Laughs] Well… [long pause] no.
That didn’t sound too convincing.
Morenstein: You can say we’re really drunk. We’ve used Jack Daniel's many times, Patron, all kinds of beer. We’ll plan to make Jack Daniel's syrup so we’ll go and buy some Jack Daniel's, and then we’re chilling, drinking Jack, and all of a sudden it’s time to make the syrup and we’re like, “Where’s the Jack Daniel's? Shit, bottle’s empty.’” That’s happened on a few occasions.
Does this shit really taste good?
Toth: Everything has tasted really, really good. Let’s be realistic: You put bacon on anything it’ll taste good.
So no one’s ever thrown up during or after one of these episodes?
Morenstein: One thing we’ll never do that Jackass does is we won’t barf. We just spent $500 on this meal, so we’re going to eat it all. And, on the rare occasion that there’s leftovers, we’ll give it to one of us who will eat it as leftovers all week for lunch. One episode, the Christmas one, we all pigged out like crazy and went to see Tron: Legacy right after, and we all stunk horribly. We all had the meat sweats where you feel like the food is packed up into your throat. That’s more of a food coma thing. But there’s never been a food-poisoning, undercooking, etc. We wash our hands like crazy.
Are you guys worried about the potential health risks of eating such fatty creations?
Morenstein: Muscles Glasses is actually a trainer. So just like when he’s eating and we’re sitting behind the camera yelling, “Fucking eat it!” he loves it when the tables turn and the next week we’re in the gym and he’s pushing us, yelling at us. Cause I personally think that if we were fat, the show wouldn’t be funny. People would be concerned that we were gonna die. If you watch Man vs. Food, [the host, Adam Richman] ballooned up over the seasons so I was a little nervous. That’s when we decided to call in the goon squad. We needed the work of everyone to go in on this. We don’t want anyone to die on this. But yeah, we’re dangerous.
Did your parents cook you unhealthy meals when you were younger?
Toth: I used to have to trade with people in school to get the Fruit Roll-Ups and fatty stuff I really wanted. I guess I was always craving it, and now I can go over the top and make whatever the hell I want.
So this desire to eat massive amounts was borne out of childhood deprivation?
Morenstein: In Sterling’s case, yeah. In my case, I’ve been eating whatever I want. We all love to eat and we’re all big guys. Sterling is 6’3” and I’m 6’6”, 260. When you’re big guys and you’re younger, there’s always pressure on you at the dinner table with your buddies to be the one that eats the most. It sticks with you. We’re big guys, and we eat big things. Most of us have been doing this before the cameras were even rolling. A lot of us train and work out and watch ourselves, and there’s one day of the week where you can have that cheat day, and it’s usually Sunday football day. That’s the day where we made epic meals for us to enjoy. It was only after that pizza video where we decided to start filming it and were like, ‘This could be something. Epic meals once a week.”
How much does each episode of Epic Meal Time cost?
Morenstein: Our meals can cost between $500-$600.
And do you guys bank enough off YouTube to float yourselves without having jobs on the side?
Morenstein: I can’t substitute anymore. If I went in and was like, “All right, everyone listen up!” The kids would go, “And bacon strips, and bacon strips!” In Montreal, I don’t think there’s any 16-, 17-year-old who hasn’t heard of Epic Meal Time yet. So both Sterling and me are focused on this. A lot of the other guys we’ve encouraged to stay in school. Sterling and I will pull the weight of it, and they’ll come whenever they have the time and put in good work. We’re trying to get it to that point where it can be its own self-sustaining thing where we can all get by on it.
It’s been reported that you guys signed with The Gersh Agency and Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, and have been shopping your show to Comedy Central, the Discovery Channel, etc.
Morenstein: Yeah. It went excellently. Sterling and I went into L.A. and pitched to a whole bunch of networks, and now we’re playing the waiting game. The TV thing would be awesome and we’d really be able to go nuts with the budget, but until then, we can promise that every Tuesday will be a new Epic Meal Time.
You guys are selling T-shirts on your website now. Are there any other merchandising plans, like an iPhone app?
Morenstein: The one iPhone app idea that keeps popping up a lot is that they want a soundboard, so when someone is getting annoying and talking too much, they just get their phone out and tap something that goes, “And bacon strips, and bacon strips, and bacon strips.” All those other stupid things we say when we’re drunk. And we’ve been recording all our recipes to put together for a cookbook. We want to go the whole nine yards. Even though they’re no-brainers, me and Sterling aren’t the type of guys who like to do things halfway, so we’ve been taking it slow and doing it properly.
What’s your most memorable episode?
Morenstein: For it to be memorable, we would have had to have been sober so we can actually remember it. The Thanksgiving episode was almost $600 on my credit card, we weren’t getting money off YouTube, I didn’t have a job as a teacher, and we’re cooking this gigantic monstrosity nobody’s ever cooked before, so we decided to post on my Facebook that friends could come by and for $10 eat with us, cause we wanted to curb some of the cost. It was just a headache. We had 20 people coming to my house—a lot of them strangers who just happened to be friends of Epic Meal Time—and they came in and the pig comes out, and we’re thinking that if we cut this thing in half with strangers at my table who paid to be on Epic Meal Time, and there’s a little, bloody bird in the center of it, we figured we’d just throw in the towel right there. But we cut it open and it was a beautifully cooked quail. You don’t see it, but off-camera we were like, “Fuck YEAH!” We were throwing plates around celebrating.
Are you worried you’ll reach a point where you just can’t go any bigger?
Morenstein: We’re not worried about that. I guess the day we put two giraffes in a whale and feed it to the U.S. Army, maybe that will be the day where we’ll be like, ‘”Well, we’ve really killed it.”
Marlow Stern works for The Daily Beast and has a master's from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He has served in the editorial department of Blender magazine, as an editor at Amplifier magazine, and, since 2007, editor of Manhattan Movie Magazine.