In mid-March, just a few days before pubs across the country were shuttered, comedian Nat’s What I Reckon sat down at the Town Hall Hotel in Newtown, Sydney to edit a 3.5-minute video of himself cooking.
He was between houses at the time, and the internet where he was staying was a bit shaky, so he set up at the pub. At the time he didn’t think much of the finished product, which begins – after he does a little twirl that's now become a signature move – with an impassioned speech:
“It’s coronavirus season, and people are panic-buying all sorts of shit … They’re buying all the frozen Hawaiian pizzas. You know which garbage is next to go? This shit: jar sauce. [Holds up jar of mass-produced tomato pasta sauce.] It’s fucking disgusting. It tastes like shit. There’s a plethora of fresh food out there – you can make this without having to dropkick 35 tons of sugar up your gut.”
What follows is Nat, in a camouflage tee with dead straight, chest-length metalhead locks, walking viewers through an easy tomato and basil sauce (with “shitloads of garlic”) recipe.
“I’m not going to show you how to chop things," he says. "This is not a ‘show you how to chop’ video.”
“It’s a bit of a last-minute repair job on my career,” Nat says, deadpan. “I decided to change things up after having my tour put on hold – decided to focus on an isolation-themed thing. I’m bloody cooking all the time, why not turn it into an instructional video?
“I’d been at the shops earlier in the week seeing the whole panic start, and people buying food that I find pretty fucking disgusting – all this canned and packeted stuff – and I’m thinking, people are going to end up so crook living off this shit for however long this [crisis] ends up being.
"The one that shits me the most is the jarred pasta sauce, then seeing the whole fresh food section untouched. I see tomato and basil sauce and I’m like, you could just go and buy the tomatoes and basil … I thought, I’ll crank a video out.”
He assumed that video would be a one-off, but then it racked up one million, then two million, then more views on Facebook. Now the first instalment has siblings.
Like "Carbo-Rona Sauce”. (Twirl. “What’s going on jailbirds? You’re locked up in your house and you’re still buying fucking jar sauce … Carbonara my fucking ass. Cheese powder, onion, thickener, yeast extract ... If that's fucking carbonara pasta sauce, I'm the president of Australia.”) It’s had 6.2 million views on Facebook, and 294,000 on YouTube.
Also, “Smells Like Quarantine Spirit Risotto”. (Twirl. “I’m ready to hang some shit on more packeted shit.”). 6.8 million Facebook views, 564,000 on YouTube. “End of Days Bolognese” has hit 4.7 million views on Facebook, and is racing towards 200,000 on YouTube.
In total the renegade cooking clips have notched up more than 25 million views, and there’s been a significant spike in international fans since Nat's quarantine cooking shows began. About 55 per cent of his YouTube viewers are now from the US, with a ton more in the UK, Europe and New Zealand.
Of course, with a successful cooking show comes recipe requests. Top of the list? “Shitloads of mac’n’cheese.”
But given the menu so far has pasta-heavy, mac’n’cheese lovers will need to be patient. Asia is next on the cuisine agenda. “It may or may not be curry," Nat says. "It’s good gear – and you can put everything in your fridge in it.”
There is some method to the madness too, and a long history and love of cooking.
“I’m mad for it. I’m usually cooking for a lot of people – that’s my jam. I’ve lived in large share houses for a long time and I get real kick out of feeding everyone," he says. “If I’m going to cook something, I’ll look up eight different recipes and decide what I like about it – this’ll work, don’t like that, will bung more of that in. I more or less develop them by trying them out a few times.”
Nat’s father cheffed at the Ritz Hotel in Paris when Nat was a kid. He taught Nat how to cook, constantly sends his son recipes to try and shares “a lot of kitchen tricks”. Nat even once catered for a friend’s 150-strong wedding.
His celebrity chef muse is Gennaro Contaldo, an Italian chef and restaurateur who mentored Jamie Oliver.
“He’s a fucking ripper. He’s a massive sweetheart and hilarious. Huge personality. I also find Peter Russell-Clarke really hilarious. He’s a chef from the ’80s. That’s more about his personality than his cooking. I love eccentrics.”
Now Nat’s even got celebrity fans of his own.
“I received a message from fucking Dave Grohl yesterday. Not even kidding. One of his friend’s booked me to make him a cameo – [he said], ‘My friend Dave fancies himself a bit of a barbeque chef and musician, and he’s isolating in Hawaii right now while we’re stuck at home – wind him up a bit.’
“So I’ve made him a video thinking it’s just any old Dave … And then I got a message from him on Instagram, from his verified account, Dave’s True Stories. So, I totally flipped out last night. Couldn’t bloody believe it. Didn’t sleep a wink. My whole bedroom as a kid was covered in Nirvana posters. He said he’s going to try cooking the soup and I told him to let me know how it goes.
“Fuck. I hope he likes it.”