Created by Harley Morenstein and Sterling Toth, Epic Meal Time is a Canadian cooking show that started on YouTube in October 2010. Hundreds of episodes of Epic Meal Time have been produced, and some of the show’s high-profile guest stars have been Tony Hawk, Kevin Smith, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Once referred to as “Jackass in the kitchen” by Morenstein himself, the award-winning series is especially admirable for taking the pretense out of the kitchen.
The major success of Epic Meal Time has led Morenstein and company to work on a variety of other projects. One of these is Pizza In A Bag. A Keto and Paleo-friendly snack with only 2 grams of carbs per serving, Pizza In A Bag currently comes in 3 flavors: Pepperoni Pizza Style, Supreme Pizza Style, and Buffalo Pizza Style. Admirably, Pizza In A Bag -- which is part of the growing Super Snack Time brand -- manages to be sold in pizza slice-shaped packaging.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Morenstein by phone about Epic Meal Time, Pizza In A Bag, his transition from teacher to accidental chef, and some of his other projects. Morenstein can be followed on social media via @HarleyPlays.
The “Pizza Gang” posted content while doing a media tour for Pizza In A Bag.
I have had the pleasure of consuming at least 5 servings of Pizza In A Bag. How long did that take from coming up with the idea to actually having it in stores? Harley Morenstein: Honestly, from the very first phone call we had about Pizza In A Bag, until Walmart was in was all within a year. We went to Walmart and it was the first thing we pitched, and I think the pitch went exceptionally well. The guy that we had pitched the jerky to, he was a huge fan of it... They loved the pizza-shaped bag, they loved the name, they loved the marketing that would go along with it with Epic Meal Time. We were just really fortunate. I don’t know much about the whole space, but it’s a really blessed opportunity to walk into Walmart and have them be keen on picking you up.
Is the plan to do even more flavors? I ask because there are so many varieties of pizza out there. Morenstein: Yeah, so we had some other flavors that we had pitched to some other places. Some people wanted some unique flavors, like a Hawaiian flavor, but Walmart hadn’t grabbed it. But we do have the recipes and I have taste-tested them, and they are pretty good. Beyond Pizza In A Bag, the idea is -- and I can’t get too specific -- Walmart is bringing other In A Bags. If you imagine, you can probably think about what they could be...
They’re keen on that, and Super Snack Time itself, we're trying to build a brand like we did with Epic Meal Time. Mix it up a whole bunch, so it’s not just In A Bag products, we have just awesome super-snack concepts that we have been bringing to Walmart, which they’ve been showing interest in. If all goes well, then within a year or two, we can see Super Snack Time being in multiple aisles of a Walmart.
With over 30 million views, how can you not want to check out “Fast Food Lasagna”?
In spite of collaborating with Walmart and you guys being branding gurus, there’s definitely a punk rock vibe to what you do. What sort of role did independent music play within your development of Epic Meal Time and Super Snack Time? Morenstein: I feel like everyone’s always just like, “This is so punk rock.” You’re like, “That’s not punk rock, this is just a Facebook group.” (laughs) I feel like we had a punk vibe unintentionally since the dawn of Epic Meal Time. With the food game there was a system in place, food shows were one way and they operated one way. We kind of turned our kitchen into a mosh pit and had 5, 6, 7 dudes in there making crazy things, shouting at the top of our lungs.
Now, with our jerky, jerky especially, there haven’t been many unique things happening within the jerky space. Epic Meal Time is a small company. Nexttime Productions, we are small. We just kind of come in and everyone’s zigging and we zag. It is pretty punk when the system goes one way, you go the other way. Just the triangle bag and the pepperoni pizza jerky, it’s right in line with Epic Meal Time, which I felt was rebelling against the status quo. Which wasn’t what we were setting out to do, but when you compare it to what was going on with The Food Network and things like that, it’s very different. Pizza In A Bag is very different as well. I wanna say that we’re really close to The Beastie Boys ultimately, because we’re 3 Jewish guys. (laughs)
Well, it depends on which era of The Beastie Boys you’re talking about. Morenstein: “3 MCs, less the one DJ.” License To Ill?
Another look at Pizza In A Bag. YUM!
Speaking of musicians, you did have Lights early on into the show’s run. Do you feel a connection to musicians? That a lot of musicians like being in the kitchen? Morenstein: To be a successful musician requires incredible amounts of talent, and once you look at cooking as not being intimidating and being approachable... I think we inspired lots of people to get into the kitchen. We did one with Lights, we did one with Deadmau5. Action Bronson is the only person we planned to do an Epic Meal Time with, and we had the date set up and the food purchased, and he didn’t show up. I always was a big fan of Action Bronson, so when he did not show up to our set, and he was the only person to do that, I was like, “classic Action Bronson.” I kind of became more of a fan of him.
I think it’s just like the food thing. We’ve done some things with a whole bunch of DJs and producers, some rappers as well. I don’t know what it is. I think it’s the rebelling vibe it has. I think Epic Meal Time really stood out for a while. Now, it’s nothing to put a taco on a pizza. People come up with crazy ideas every day. But 8 years ago, it was weird to put a taco on a pizza, and that’s kind of where Pizza In A Bag came from. You look at other jerkys and ours stands out.
Check out a podcast featuring Harley Morenstein.
Beyond the projects that we’ve talked about, you also have a food truck and a podcast. Can you tell me about what you have coming up in the next few months? Morenstein: I mean, the jerky, the food and the podcast isn’t enough you? It makes me feel like I should be working on so much more now. (laughs) No, I’m just messing with you. We do Epic Meal Time every Tuesday, we handle it on Saturday, we do have the Fanboi Podcast out there, we do gaming on Facebook Gaming... It’s constantly doing something, constantly making things happen. It’s exciting because I like the space. Even when we have downtime and we're all ahead, a couple of the guys have this short movie idea that they’re working on. It’s becoming an obsession...
We get to this point where we have the jerky out in Walmart and if we want to do something, we should just do it. I hate sounding cliche, but if anyone’s reading this article, you should go out and do what you want to do. I had no idea how to cook. I have a cookbook, a cooking set, I’ve been a guest on Chopped as a judge. It’s all come from making something happen and standing out. I urge the same to anyone out there. That sounded so cliche, but you know what I mean? It’s real, it happens. We’re a bunch of guys from Canada and I think we made probably the coolest jerky this year.
That does lead me to ask as someone with so many successful projects and so many moving parts, before you “made it” with Epic Meal Time, were you living that way where you were working full-time and doing projects on the side? Morenstein: I was a high school teacher working full-time. When school was done I would drive an hour and a half to film a rapper’s music video because I wanted to get into production. I wanted to utilize my camera and edit. Then on weekends I would go and film a wedding. Work was cool, because it paid for my computer and my laptop, but every moment other than that I was literally filming rappers, filming weddings, filming live shows -- anything to practice production... I was always used to doing both at a time.
These days, a lot of kids are saying, “I want to be famous on YouTube.” They used to say, “I want to be famous on Vine.” The fact that Vine doesn’t exit shows you how short-lived these dreams could be. My theory is that you shouldn’t drop out of school if you’re a young kid and you want to do YouTube, because if you can’t keep up with school and YouTube... I never wanted it to be a business, but I have to do this whole business thing along with the whole on-camera and production work. That’s just part of it. If you are into it, you’ve gotta do both, you have to stay in school. I got my degree from university and I recommend to stay in school also... YouTube might not exist anymore, you never know.
Watch the first Epic Meal Time video, “Fast Food Pizza”, right here.
At what point were you able to quit your full-time job as a teacher and focus on Epic Meal Time and related projects full-time? Morenstein: The first video went out and got 120,000 views. I was really excited. I went to school and they said, “Sir, I heard you say ’bitch’ on the Internet in a video, and there was beer and you put all these tacos on a pizza.” I think I lost the kids. (laughs) You can lose high school kids, you know what I mean? You say “bitch” one time and they say it the whole year in your classroom, like “you said it too...” That first episode, I didn’t expect it to get as many views as it did... When the second one came out and got 600,000 views, I was like, “I should commit to this.”
I’m fortunate because I was living in my mother’s basement at the time, and I have to give credit to my parents for letting me chase my goofy dreams. But at that point, if worst came to worst, I had a degree to fall back on it. This is a very not-punk-rock way to describe how Epic Meal Time came to me. (laughs)
Start your day with a healthy, gym-ready “Breakfast of Booze”.
At what age was it that you had that first episode out that got 120,000 views? Morenstein: 25 years old, and had it happened 1 year sooner, I would have been too immature and ruined everything. 25 years old is a turning point.
I think that’s the age when Paul McCartney did Revolver and Brian Wilson did Pet Sounds... Morenstein: And I put tacos on a pizza. (laughs)
So finally, Harley, any last words for the kids? Morenstein: People ask me this... I wonder about that 17-year old kid that dropped out of school and went to Hollywood to go be famous on Vine because he got 1,000 followers on Vine, and Vine doesn’t exist anymore. I always say to stay in school, you want to be educated. Pursue your dreams but you’ve got to have that Plan B...
There’s responsible ways to do things, and I’m all about the responsible route. You’ve just got to approach it knowing these websites may not be around forever in that capacity, or the same way it is in this day and age. So definitely pursue your dreams, you’ve got to be on your toes and able to adapt with the times. YouTube is a very different space, Instagram and Snapchat, they’re always changing.