Read the comments beneath an episode of Just a Dash on YouTube and you could be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t Matty Matheson’s cooking show. “Michelle is killing it out here.” “I would die for Michelle.” “I have fallen hopelessly in love with Michelle.” “I have a massive crush on Michelle.” “I beg you, more of Michelle.” Or most typically: “WE NEED MORE MICHELLE!!!” Matheson may be the celebrity chef who actually hosts the popular online food show, but as far as the fans are concerned, it’s really his assistant and food stylist Michelle Rabin who’s the secret star.
Michelle Rabin is the underdog sidekick and low-key hero of Just a Dash, and she’s slowly emerged as a beloved fan favourite for good reason. As she puts it, she’s one of the only people willing to call the boisterous and sometimes hard-to-control Matty Matheson on his shit, and the chef’s hardcore fandom has come to appreciate that defiant attitude more than anyone could have expected. On that show and others, she comes off as a sardonic, put-upon professional who is working tirelessly to keep this chaotic enterprise together—the covert mastermind always ready with a pithy comeback or a well-timed quip.
When she’s not on camera or slaving away behind the scenes, Rabin’s cooking up a storm in her own kitchen, whipping up batch after batch of her enormously popular brand of edibles, which she calls Mom Jeans. (“Because the THC are high-rise and the CBD are relaxed fit,” she dryly explains.) Mom Jeans started as a pet project for Rabin, and as demand has skyrocketed, it’s still remained, incredibly, a one-woman show—a mom-and-pop operation without the pop.
We caught up with the surprise food-show star and Walter White of baked goods at her home in Toronto’s west end to talk about cooking with weed, dealing with fans, and why she doesn’t mind fielding marriage requests from randoms.
How did Mom Jeans get started?
I was training as a boxer and was really into athletics, and I found smoking to get high wasn’t an option. I got into edibles as an alternative to smoking, and because I like to work out high, I found it was great to eat something before a run. I started to experiment with infusing different butters and oils, and I made a bunch of cookies for an event that a friend and I had put on. The cookies were so popular that everyone started asking where they could get more.
So you started making them to order?
I would give them to a friend, and they would give them to their friends. I was making dozens and dozens of batches a week in my own kitchen. Eventually I was like, this is a real thing. Shops around Toronto carry the cookies. I switch the flavours every couple of weeks.
Did you have much baking experience before this?
I’m a culinary school dropout. But I’ve worked in many test kitchens doing recipe testing and development, and I’ve also worked in restaurants. I worked pastry in a restaurant in New York. I understand things like volume and production. But the real experience has been this experience—I’ve been doing this for two and a half years, and I’ve probably made close to 50,000 cookies. It’s gotten to the point where I truly believe in the product. I mean, these are the best fucking cookies.
"[Matty's] charismatic and fat and jolly, and there’s nothing interesting about me. So the love and fandom, I’m still like, What the fuck? It’s something I have to talk to my therapist about."
Do you plan on expanding the business?
The problem is, I still bake all these cookies by hand. There’s no middle man. I find it funny when people write to me online and ask if we do delivery. I’m like, well, I’ve got a car, so sure, we do delivery. People think it’s a massive production with a PR team and someone working admin dispatching orders. Meanwhile it’s me on my couch watching The Simpsons. It’s like that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer is doing the Moviefone: “Why don’t you just tell me the movie you want to see?”
How has quarantine affected business?
People have been really loyal. There was a time at the start of quarantine when people were trying to get accustomed to staying home. For people to all of a sudden have to be OK with just being in their homes, a lot of people reached out for entertainment. A lot of people were like, let’s get high. Instead of spending money on a $200 dinner, they’d buy some cookies with THC in them.
You mentioned working in test kitchens. How’d you get into that?
I was always interested in art and design, and also in food—I wanted to find work that would kind of marry the two things together. Recipe development and food styling really appealed to me, but they’re not conventional jobs. No one wakes up one morning and thinks, “Okay, I’m going to be a food stylist.” The whole field has a lot of nepotism and is hard to break into. I started working as an assistant to others, and after learning a lot and doing it for a while, I sort of realized, I’ma food stylist now.
When did you start working with Matty Matheson?
I was working as a food stylist on the set of Masterchef Canada. Someone called me and said they have this new Vice show that they need a food stylist for. It was called It’s Suppertime and Matty was the host. Matty and I had known each other prior to working on the show, but that’s how my culinary relationship with him really started.
Were you always meant to be on camera on the show?
There was always this idea of knocking down the fourth wall—you see more of what happens behind the scenes, and that involved seeing me sometimes. But in the first season I was never meant to be edited into the cuts—so when I saw the show come out, it was a surprise to me, too. The comments on YouTube always said the same thing: more Michelle, more Michelle. So more Michelle was edited into the later episodes.
Why do you think people wanted more of you?
I think the general consensus was that Matty was better when he has someone to riff off. I love Matty, but I get angry at Matty. I’m an eye-roller, but I’m also there for him, I laugh along, I’m the devil’s advocate. It makes him a better performer. We have such a congenial rapport and I think people respond to that.
Obviously, if you look at YouTube, there’s a big Michelle fandom. Has that been weird for you?
It’s really new to me. I never considered myself anything important or special. In fact, I told Matty when he hired me that he had chosen the most average-looking person ever to work alongside him. There was no chance anyone could ever fall in love with me on camera. He’s charismatic and fat and jolly, and there’s nothing interesting about me. So the love and fandom, I’m still like, What the fuck? It’s something I have to talk to my therapist about.
Would you say it’s been a positive experience, though?
I mean, it’s weird. If you look at the comments, it’s like, “I love Michelle,” “I’m only here for Michelle,” “Michelle is so hot.” Did I think I was really attractive before? No. Do I think maybe I am now? A little bit. So it’s boosted my ego. But look, there’s nothing negative about going into your message requests on Instagram and seeing a whole bunch of dudes talk about how they want to marry you. That’s fine by me.