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Over-the-top cooking show 'Epic Meal Time' sizzles on the Web

'Epic Meal Time' episodes, with such dishes as a lasagna with 45 McDonald's cheeseburgers, are drawing millions of online viewers and big-name advertisers.

November 20, 2012|By Dawn C. Chmielewski, Los Angeles Times
  • Harley Morenstein, center, the host of Internet cooking show Epic Meal Time, has his Thanksgiving show filmed while preparing food this month at the Someone Cares Soup Kitchen in Costa Mesa. He is helped by friends Jimmy Wong and Hannah Hart.
Harley Morenstein, center, the host of Internet cooking show Epic Meal… (Francine Orr, Los Angeles…)

The chef at Someone Cares Soup Kitchen is accustomed to preparing meals for hundreds of people using donated meat, vegetables and fruit.

But on a recent afternoon in Costa Mesa, the chefs of Internet cooking sensation "Epic Meal Time" were raising a skeptical eyebrow.

Among the "epic" meals added to the lunch menu: Fast Food Lasagna (whose main ingredient is 45 McDonald's cheeseburgers), the Angry French Canadian (an adaptation of the Quebec dish poutine, on this day made with French fries, bacon and cheddar cheese and topped with brown gravy and maple syrup), and TurBaconEpic, a super-size version of the Thanksgiving-themed stunt classic, in which a quail is stuffed inside a Cornish game hen, inside a chicken, inside a duck, inside a turkey — then slow-roasted inside a pig.

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"We brought a whole bunch of our best-tasting recipes today to share with everyone here," said Harley Morenstein, the host of "Epic Meal Time." "So, I hope you enjoy it. If not, I apologize."

This isn't Ina Garten's "Barefoot Contessa." Morenstein and his cast of supporting characters aren't seeking the perfect bechamel sauce.

They're cooking big piles of meat, making such comically over-the-top meals as the barbecue Colosseum constructed out of ribs, cheeseburgers, hot dogs and macaroni and cheese, or a Christmas tree decorated with garland strands of chicken nuggets and 2,000 strips of bacon.

Online audiences — especially young men — eat it up. The weekly cooking show has attracted some 2.9 million subscribers on YouTube, and nearly a half-billion video views. The recent episodes "Chinese Pizza," "The Unbalanced Breakfast" and "Country Fried Meal Time" have each had more viewers than for a recent episode of TLC's popular "Cake Boss" or The Travel Channel's "Man Vs. Food." According to ratings firm Nielsen, new episodes of "Cake Boss" and "Man Vs. Food" attracted 1.5 million and 1.1 million viewers, respectively, in their initial TV outings.

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Eager to reach the Web show's young male demographic, Frito-Lay North America Inc.'s Doritos brand, retailer GameStop Corp., subscription service Netflix Inc. and the publisher of the "Gears of War" video game have advertised on the channel.

The Web show is not without its detractors. The advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals featured a parody video called "Vegan Meal Time" on its blog and criticized the show's creators for "the nastiness of their gluttonous creations."

"'Epic Meal Time' seems to be a proud sponsor of the obesity epidemic," Jane Dollinger, a spokeswoman for PETA, said in a statement.

But "Epic Meal Time" has won some surprising fans who appreciate its satire of the over-serious TV cooking show. Healthful-eating advocate Jamie Oliver, who hosted ABC's "Food Revolution," even wrote the forward for the Web show's forthcoming cookbook.

Morenstein, who holds a degree in elementary education from McGill University in Montreal, was developing a children's show when he uploaded a video of him and a buddy cooking a pizza topped with melted cheese and McDonald's hamburgers. For fun, he tacked on nutritional information (6,000 calories and over 1,000 grams of fat) and invented the "Epic Meal Time" name to capture the gastronomical excess.

The October 2010 video was a modest YouTube sensation — attracting 150,000 views and coverage in the local newspaper. The next video, in which Morenstein created the Angry French Canadian sandwich, grabbed an even bigger online viewership and earned the 6-foot-6 host the nickname "Jackass in the kitchen."

In a bid for American viewers, Morenstein planned a Thanksgiving feast in which he created an exaggerated version of the legendary turducken. He dubbed his creation the TurBaconEpic.

"It got 2 million views in a week," Morenstein said. "I was like, 'OK, this is what we do for my life now.'"

In 2010, "Epic Meal Time" was accepted into YouTube's partner program, allowing it to share in online advertising revenue. To prepare, he wrote 200 to 300 cooking ideas for such things as a variation on spaghetti and meatballs, in which the pasta is stuffed into a meatball the size of a basketball.

Now, Morenstein's production company is profitable and supports a 10-person full-time team.

It collects revenue from advertisers attracted by its more than 30 million monthly video views, garners fees from marketers who are coming to the show's creator to develop branded content to promote their products and services, and operates a lucrative merchandising operation that sells everything from hats, hoodies and T-shirts to, soon, cooking utensils, said Dan Weinstein, chief content officer at Collective Digital Studio, Morenstein's management company and distribution partner.

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