Epic Meal Time is the number-one online cooking show in the world, with six million subscribers and weekly episodes on YouTube attracting more than half a million views each. The show is not about getting your daily intake of vegetables, keeping fit or foraging in the woods for the finest truffles. It's about going to the butcher to find the fattiest slabs of bacon and slapping together the most outrageous, unhealthful meals possible.
Given its success, it was only a matter of time before the online series made the move from the computer to the small screen, with a new 16-episode half-hour program called Epic Meal Empire on the FYI cable TV channel — a recently rebranded version of A&E's Biography.
Like its host and creator Harley Morenstein — who's from Montreal, Quebec — the show is a Canadian export. For the TV version, however, Morenstein and his production company made the move from Canada to Los Angeles. But given its reputation as a place where healthful eating trends abound, it seems like an odd choice to film a show like this, which is all about dramatic displays of artery-clogging foodstuffs meant to simultaneously fascinate and disgust audiences — and maybe that's the goal.
Yet considering its already existing popularity online, we couldn't help wondering: Do television viewers really need this kind extreme cooking show? And why is it set in L.A.?
During his career as a substitute teacher back in Canada, Morenstein started tinkering with amateur video production — which eventually led to the debut of Epic Meal Time in the fall of 2010. After less than a month, the show became so in-demand that Morenstein stopped subbing and starting focusing on his show full time. Considering its enduring popularity, not to mention the fact that there are already hundreds of episodes online, it was a natural progression to move the Epic Meal brand to television.
If you're adventurous in your eating habits and don't frown on fast food, Epic Meal Empire will probably be fun to watch. But unlike other TV celebuchefs who are all about the quality and presentation of the food, the five-person cast of Epic Meal Empire is primarily about shock value. The show is about presentation, too, but more in a sculptural sense — if that's even the proper term.
Throughout the TV series there's a hamburger-shaped cake with churros as french fries, a "zombie" with sausage-link entrails — and what appears to be a hamburger-stuffed charred shark.
The debut episode "Taterbot" premieres tomorrow, Saturday, July 26, but you can already watch it online. It starts with Morenstein and his team making a "cheeseburger lasagna" with bacon instead of noodles and burgers slathered in meat sauce as layers, with more bacon (sorry, noodles) covered in a mystery sauce and cheese — and, inexplicably, onion rings.
It's the kind of meal only a group of hungry guys would devise, and to temper the show's overwhelming testosterone levels, Natalie Forte of the Cooking Channel’s America’s Best Bites enters as a liaison between the Epic Meal team and the general public, to the initial consternation of the existing men. Her first extreme-food "client" is a 2nd grade teacher who wants to surprise her students with a "fantasy meal," since they eat boring old healthful food year-round.
Morenstein heads out to buy a beat-up old ambulance, paints it black, and transforms it into a nasty meal mobile called the Hambulance, with a fake pig snout masthead and a mock grill in the shape of of the team's signature bacon-weave logo. After Morenstein cruises up in his new ride, he and his team start building Mr. Tater Bot, a robot-shaped monstrosity with a head made from Tater Tots and flashing laser eyes, licorice arms, a grilled-cheese body, hot-dog fingers, burger legs and shepherd's pie feet.
Finally, the cast wheels the edible automaton out on a gurney to be delivered to the group of six-year-olds, who then wiggle up to attack the robot and devour its body parts like maggots on a rotten steak.
As you might expect, the TV version of the extreme cooking show is just as outrageous and over-the-top as its online counterpart, only now it looks like there's an even bigger budget for the show's chefs and their crazy ideas. That's probably the biggest reason it's set in L.A., with the entertainment industry actively encouraging the show's theatrical aspect.
But when it comes to meals, it's probably safe to say that Los Angeles is a hub for health food aficionados who value quality over quantity. Whether they adhere to vegan or gluten-free diets, or just opt for simple organic ingredients, many Angelenos are looking for ways to improve their food habits.
With this type of show, there's going to be a different reaction in L.A. than in Canada. Maybe that's another reason the network decided to move the show here: They're looking to shock people out of their healthful lifestyles. After all, gross food has a champion too, and maybe the whole thing is supposed to appeal to those who aren't drinking reverse-osmosis water and eating kale on a regular basis.
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Epic Meal Empire's target audience isn't watching cholesterol levels or reading the labels on their ingredients. Instead, the show is for junk-food junkies who love salt, meat, beer and whiskey and aren't afraid of eating massive, disgusting-looking meals, especially when they come in the form of things like a robot or a human body. So if you're a raw kale salad and juice fast person, Epic Meal Empire probably isn't for you — unless you're watching to remind yourself what you're missing.
Editor's note: Or want a great venue for more Adam Richman jokes.