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When you work at a website called MUNCHIES, it's virtually impossible to dodge the weed connotations. And when you happen to interview Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld—the co-creators of Vimeo's original web series High Maintenance—food and its relationship to Mary Jane is an unavoidable thread in your conversation. The dimebag-sized episodes of High Maintenance (each one is around 12 minutes in length) revolve around the delivery route of a New York weed dealer and his brief interactions with his customers.
The co-creators also happened to make an appearance on today's new episode of MUNCHIES' own series The Dinner Bell, hosted by the elegantly industrious Julia Ziegler-Haynes. Julia has a habit of making things look easy, which becomes glaringly apparent in today's episode as she whips up a mesmerizing brunch menu of beet-cured lox, homemade bagels, radicchio and roasted beet salad, Bloody Marys, and cardamom cookies for the entire cast and crew of High Maintenance. I used to say that I'll never be Martha Stewart, but I've swapped her out for Julia Ziegler-Haynes.
I wanted to get Ben and Katja's thoughts on a couple things: for starters, their real-time experience of consuming delicious lox and drinking vodka from an ice luge, but also what's going on in the upcoming episodes of High Maintenance (for addicts, the next one drops this Thursday). Since stoner talk was unavoidable, it became the main trope in our conversation, though we also dug into why the Blueprint Diet is the devil and why Trader Joe's is secretly the best "craft services" company in the world.
MUNCHIES: Julia Ziegler-Haynes made you a gorgeous brunch spread in the latest episode of The Dinner Bell. It looked great on camera, but how was the food in real life? Ben: Just crazy. It was quite luxurious to walk into that place—and Julia has cooked for us a few times before. We spent Thanksgiving with her, and it felt like going into a much nicer version of our own living room. We had to pinch ourselves a little bit for everyone being so nice to us just because we made these fucking weed videos. We've become really close with Julia, and I think that the Dinner Bell episode captured that vibe. She went the whole nine yards with the ice luge that had the weed leaf carved into it.
Katja: The homemade bagels were really where it was at. She made those for us this summer when we were staying out at her lovely home in the North Fork and we wouldn't shut up about them for the next month. She makes everything look so effortless and casual.
When you're filming High Maintenance, do you ever find the time to actually cook for yourselves? Ben: Well, it's mostly Trader Joe's, honestly. Trader Joe's has really great craft services food. We try not to go too junk-food-heavy on set, so we aim for things like seaweed snacks, chips and salsa, or hummus, vegetables, whatever. We make food for ourselves quite a lot, but not during production.
What are the Trader Joe's essentials on set? Katja: Well, the kale chips are really crucial. An assortment of jerky is usually omnipresent. Sliced apples are really big. Pineapple spears, pita, and hummus. Oh, those dark chocolate almonds with the turbinado and sea salt are an absolute staple. I can't think of an entire shoot where we didn't have those on hand.
Ben: Nacho-cheese kale chips really work, too. Those mango yogurt gummies. Those are fucking dangerous.
Katja: It's funny how it's snuck into our High Maintenance universe. We've noticed that there's a few shoutouts to Trader Joe's on the series; some explicit, some instances where you see someone walking around with the grocery bags, but I didn't know it was happening when it was happening—except for one time.
It makes perfect sense. All of the characters we've seen thus far feel like authentic New Yorkers—ex-boyfriends, teachers, weirdos on the subway. Because of the show, it feels like weed delivery services have to step their games up. What do you think is the best New York stoner food? Ben: It depends on the stoner. I've been eating Artichoke Pizza more than a few times in my life and thinking, I shouldn't be eating this … it's really a lot, but because I was stoned, I then thought, I might get another slice. This seems OK. Cronuts have also been another one of those dangerous yum-yums.
Katja: We live in Ditmas Park, an area that doesn't have a whole lot of awesome delivery options, and Ben and I are sort of bad at keeping our kitchen well-stocked. We usually end up making really weird snacks. Sometimes it's almond butter on a half-brown banana with a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt on top.
What are the types of stoners that we can expect to see in the upcoming episodes that we haven't seen before? Ben: They're goofier—we've diverted away from the classic gentrified Brooklynite. In these upcoming three, we head back towards the really mobile, creative types who live in Brooklyn and are trying to make it work, but are not rich enough to make it work; the early 20s/30s types who are wondering, How are we gonna do it?
Come to think of it, I don't recall the [delivery] guy ever eating any food in past episodes? Ben: He was eating falafel while watching Pinkie dance in the Jaime episode.
Katja: He ate some of the food from a gift basket in the very first episode, but you're right—we've never really filmed that.
Ben: Someone has pointed out that there's a lot of foodplay amongst our characters in these next three episodes. Food is a really big part of our lives. We used to cook a lot—when Katja worked on 30 Rock, we would come home every night and I would start cooking and she would jump in. It was our happy place together. Now that's gone. [laughs]
Katja: We used to bake bread together. Ben was ordering yogurt cultures on Etsy from Sweden—stuff like that. As we've gotten busier, those activities have fallen by the wayside. This is embarrassing to admit, but in the beginning of our relationship, we did a lot of homesteading—which was en vogue six years ago when everybody was talking about getting back to the earth and learning how to make sourdough starter.
I've tried to make bread and almost killed myself in the process. Katja: [Laughs] The texture left a lot to be desired, but boy, did we try.
Ben: Bread is not something you can exactly eyeball. It takes precise measuring and the right touch. To be honest, the thing that fucked us in our cooking habits was when we started doing the Primal Blueprint Diet. We couldn't eat anything except for beans, eggs, and meat, so that took us out of the cooking arena. Since then, we've been off the thing, so maybe the Blueprint Diet is the destruction of the modern cooking institution. I don't know.
That sounds awful. You're currently in LA. Where are you dining out? Ben: People keep telling us to go to Alimento, which is right down the street from where we're staying, but we've been eating plenty of tacos from taco trucks. We love Mexican food—that's probably our food of choice.
Katja: We got out here and immediately bought a bunch of avocados and bread so that we could make avocado toast every morning. We just went to this place called Hungry Cat, which had a weird vibe because it sits in this sort of industrial office park, but it was exquisite. I had clams and chorizo that blew my mind and Ben got a Thai-style whole fish. We're still talking about it.
I'm glad to hear that you haven't converted to guzzling West Coast smoothies and quinoa bowls now that you're temporarily bi-coastal. If there were one thing that I could airmail you from the Big Apple, what would it be? Ben: Mazi Piri-Piri sauce.
Katja: Definitely. It's our favorite hot sauce made in small batches in Asbury Park, and it's amazing if you've never had it. We put it on everything.
I've heard it's like culinary crack. And now, somehow we've come full circle.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat.