TORONTO—The four guys behind “Epic Meal Empire” have devoured cheeseburger-stuffed lasagna, pizza cupcakes and Tex-mex sushi. So what’s the grossest thing they’ve ever eaten?
“Dried apricots and dried papayas,” says founder Harley Morenstein with disgust.
The Montreal-based kitchen crew genuinely loves calorie-laden comfort food. And after racking up 600 million YouTube views for their “Epic Meal Time” videos, they’re bringing their passion for gut-busting concoctions to the small screen.
In “Epic Meal Empire,” airing Mondays on FYI, the gang moves to Los Angeles and cooks up artery-clogging fare for “extreme-food clients”—i.e. anyone with an excuse to consume meals that should probably only be eaten once in a lifetime.
The crew, led by “Sauce Boss” Morenstein and his friends Josh Elkin, Ameer Atari and Dave Heuff, sees moving from YouTube to TV as a natural progression.
“I don’t mind saying that I like ‘Epic Meal Empire’ better than ‘Epic Meal Time,”‘ declared Morenstein, 29, in an interview.
Back in 2010, he was a substitute high school teacher in his hometown of Montreal when he began experimenting in video production. “Epic Meal Time” was born when he and his friends created an elaborate “cheat meal”—ironically, amid efforts to promote health and fitness.
“After the first episode, I substituted the following week. The show had gotten a lot of traction,” he recalled. “The kids were like, ‘Oh sir, I saw you drinking on the Internet!’ … I kind of lost the children that day.”
Two weeks later, the number of online views were so staggering that Morenstein quit his teaching job. After hundreds of episodes, two cookbooks and six million YouTube subscribers, the crew turned their attention to TV.
Morenstein said several networks were interested, but in the end they chose “contemporary lifestyle” channel FYI, a recent rebrand of Shaw Media’s Twist and A&E’s Biography.
“They let us do what we want, which is the best part of being on FYI,” he said. “They were the ones that really put the trust in us. They picked up 16 episodes right off the bat. That was enough for us to want to commit to that network.
“Now, the show is exactly what we want. It’s something we’re proud of. It’s hilarious. I think it’s an awesome show.”
In the first episode, a second-grade teacher invites the guys to make her students a “fantasy meal,” a break from eating boring old healthy food. They build a “Taterbot,” a giant robot made of Tater Tots, licorice and grilled cheese.
Other wild concoctions in the show: a Cinnabon battleship with a cream cheese frosting churro cannon, an eight-foot chicken (made of chicken tenders and 100 eggs) on roller skates and an edible car they also claim is “driveable.”
A bigger budget allows the guys to be more imaginative with their meals, but network television has its drawbacks. The Jack Daniel’s-guzzling foursome can’t drink on camera, which they flout in the premiere by taking a shot off screen.
And to balance out the heavy dose of testosterone, Natalie Forte of the Cooking Channel’s “America’s Best Bites” has joined the crew as their “liaison” to clients.
“I think the network was concerned when we first started the show that we’d be a little too gross for TV—just disgusting men,” said Heuff. “So she brings a little bit of beauty and elegance.”
The guys, who all met in Montreal, say they’ve been given a surprisingly warm welcome in Los Angeles, the land of kale and juice fasts. They still tend to eat bacon and Big Macs on their days off, although Elkin exercises regularly and Morenstein will occasionally “blast the biceps.”
Their rise to fame has been unusual, to say the least. Heuff joked that his parents “teeter on the edge of disappointment most of the time.”
“But my dad turned to me and said one day that there’s no other chance of me ever being famous or being popular. So I should probably pursue this career.”