Digital Dish… with Harley Morenstein of ‘Epic Meal Time’
When I pose the question of favorite recipes to Harley Morenstein, the jovial internet personality gives it a serious moment’s thought before answering in earnest:
“The meat castle. It’s a recent one. There are people out there who don’t even know a meat castle exists, but it has a working drawbridge and walls made of chicken nuggets. It’s a damn sexy meal.”
If this answer forces you to take a pause, then it’s likely you’re not familiar with Morenstein and his popular YouTube show, “Epic Meal Time.” Masterminding some of the most outrageous recipes the world has ever seen, Morenstein (aka “The Sauce Boss”) and the Epic Meal Time crew’s culinary concoctions are certainly not for the calorie-counting faint of heart. With a back-catalogue of over 250 recipes that include such gems as lasagna made of Big Macs or a Christmas tree constructed out of thousands of strips of bacon, the digital sensations more than earn the “epic” moniker in their name.
Because of their admittedly frenetic approach to cooking, Morenstein early on compared “Epic Meal Time” to MTV’s “Jackass” due to their penchant for approaching recipes with a haphazard “dare you” sensibility. However, since the show’s launch in 2010, Morenstein tells me that this analogy is no longer completely accurate, and clarifies that while their kitchen may be crazy, it’s certainly a calculated craziness.
“I can finally officially put to rest the ‘Jackass’ comparison,” Morenstein says. “It was perfect for when we just used to release ‘Epic Meal Time’ on Tuesdays, but now we do ‘Epic Meal Time’ on Tuesday, we do an instructional show on Saturday, we do a gaming channel, we’re moving to TV…we’ve grown bigger than the initial analogy of ‘just a bunch of goons having a good time.’ I mean, we’re still a bunch of goons, but we’re running a business and we’re trying maximize everything on all fronts. I’d say we’re now more like Destiny’s Child, because we’re a small, tight-knit group. We’re choreographed in our movements, and we look damn good doing what we do. We’re the Destiny’s Child of cooking now.”
…and if “Epic Meal Time” is Destiny’s Child, then that certainly casts Morenstein as the Beyoncé of food content creation. Making bold decisions about even-bolder recipes has rocketed Morenstein and company to a vast viewership of over 6 million subscribers and counting, forcing the Epic Meal Time brand to reach ever higher for the sake of their audience.
“The challenges, early on, used to be technical: ‘How are we going to sew this on? Where are we going to find something big enough to heat this up?’ Now the challenges come in the form of how we evolve the meals even more,” Morenstein says. “We’re 250 recipes in, and we’ve done all these things that are huge in scope, and we’ve desensitized ourselves, in a way. Now, we sit around and throw out
ideas and come up with things like what we did for Christmas, which was six pig carcasses pulling a bacon covered sleigh.”
Enjoying this? Then you’ll love what else we’ve got cookin’ for you in our “Video Food Fest” special issue.
“The challenge now is how do we give new perspective to people who haven’t been thinking like us for three years?” he continues, “But also, how do we engage the average person who maybe hasn’t heard of ‘Epic Meal Time,’ or hasn’t checked in recently? There’s also the people who have seen the last 250 episodes and are as familiar with what we do as we are…how do we keep it fresh for all of them? While we haven’t run out of ideas, we’re trying to think with a bigger scope and take it to a bigger place. Hopefully that will come to light on the television series.”
The series that Morenstein is alluding to is the recently announced “Epic Meal Show” for A+E’s soon-to-launch FYI Network. Even though “Epic Meal Time” is expanding to TV, Morenstein isn’t interested in letting TV change the internet-defined brand. Instead, he wants to re-imagine what a cooking show can be on television.
“You’ll still find our format within the show, but it will be part of a grander scheme,” Morenstein says. “It’s food and it’s comedy, and it’s going to revolve around ‘Epic Meal Time.’ It’s going to lift the veil on a lot of the behind-the-scenes things that occur on the internet, as well as some new surprises. Just as I feel we revolutionized, in our way, cooking shows online, I’m hoping to revolutionize the scripted reality show style by bringing our brand to television. It took us awhile, but we finally found a place where we’re comfortable. The biggest thing is that a lot of YouTubers make it to TV, and then they stop their YouTube. But, we’ve established this relationship with our audience where our YouTube channel will continue during our TV show. Even while we’re filming those 16 episodes, we’re still doing our weekly show online.”
By moving to television, but maintaining his viewership online, Morenstein is doing what he does best: Raising the stakes by crafting a new recipe for how things can be done. In the few short years of “Epic Meal Time”’s existence, the brand has become a major force in the world of culinary content creation and has become the standard for the “go big or go home” attitude for some of today’s modern foodies. Yet, for all his success, Morenstein remains humble.
“I never set out to do a bad show or an unsuccessful show, but I never thought that a network like A+E would offer 16 episodes of a TV show to me based on an online video where I put burgers on a pizza with my buddies back in 2010.”
However, with that one meaty pizza, Morenstein has launched a media empire, and redefined the notion that when it comes to our appetites, sometimes the “more is more” approach isn’t only the best option, it’s the most epic one.
Tags: a+e, Collective Digital Studio, epic meal show, epic meal time, Food Issue, fyi network, Harley Morenstein, Special Issue, Video Food Fest, youtube, YouTube creator