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The Man Famous for Trying to Make Junk Food Sexy

A conversation with Chris Applebaum, the director of those Carl’s Jr. commercials with Paris Hilton and Kate Upton

In 2005, Chris Applebaum was working as a music video director when an ad agency approached him about an upcoming campaign it was working on. “We want to do a Carl’s Jr. commercial with Paris Hilton,” their reps told Applebaum, whose biggest video credits include Semisonic’s “Closing Time,” Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom,” Rihanna’s “Umbrella” and Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the U.S.A.” “If you have any ideas, let us know.”

His idea — a wet and soapy Hilton biting into a massive burger as she seductively washes her car to the tune of Eleni Mandell’s sultry cover of “I Love Paris” — has become one of the most recognizable ad campaigns of the last decade (thanks to a mix of ubiquity and infamy). It’s also become Carl’s Jr.’s sales pitch ever since — the It Girl(s) of the moment (e.g., Kate Upton, Nina Agdal and Charlotte McKinney) chomping down on the chain’s signature offerings in as filthy of ways as the fast food itself.

Applebaum has directed between 30 and 40 commercials for Carl’s Jr.; he also plays with food and seduction in EATS, a new series of short videos that he shares on Instagram. The particulars are definitely reminiscent of his Carl’s Jr. commercials. Three prime examples: Barrett Sharpe, wearing a leather jacket over black lingerie, tries to catch a piece of cotton candy in her mouth; Kara Del Toro, in a red bikini, sticks her finger deep into a donut to scoop out the filling; and Lauren Young chows down on a plate of spaghetti to “That’s Amore.” But they’re both more fun and seductive.

MEL recently spoke to Applebaum about why he can’t shake his food fetish, his own unquenchable desire for nachos and how grease and carbs can be the new standard-bearer of erotic eating.