Review: Uncook Yourself17 December 2020
During Melbourne’s second lockdown, my housemates and I got a lot of joy out of communal Sunday dinners. In the morning, a handful of us would get up as early as our hangovers would allow and head down to the Queen Victoria Market in search of the cheapest fresh produce we could find. We cooked through the afternoon, threw together a dinner table and searched for enough plates and cutlery for all twelve of us. Moments like these were hard to come by in an often lonely and traumatic year, and nailing your part felt damn good. In the words of Nat’s What I Reckon, Australia’s latest and most surprising celebrity chef, there’s something about cooking and sharing a feast with friends that makes you feel like a “f*cking champion”.
In Uncook Yourself: a ratbag’s rules for life, Sydney-based comedian Nat’s What I Reckon serves up some useful and not-so-useful advice for life, while simultaneously taking a swipe at the “quackery” of the self-help industry. The book rides off the back of the viral success of Nat’s cooking videos on YouTube which have gained an audience across the globe. Like its author, the book is a little bit unconventional and hard to place in any particular genre. It’s a melting pot of recipes, cartoons and rambling, broadly structured around eight “rules for life”. In culinary terms, it’s a bit like a meal you might pull together from leftovers and whatever is in the fridge when you really just can’t be arsed leaving the house.
That said, there’s plenty to like about Uncook Yourself, especially if you’re already a fan of Nat’s straightforward attitude towards cooking and life in general.
Nat has been making videos on YouTube for nearly a decade, but it was his cooking videos in the early stages of lockdown which achieved literal viral success in Australia and abroad. A swearing, tattooed YouTube comedian might seem like 2020’s most unlikely hero, but the more you read about his life, the less random it seems.
Tuberculosis, an unwanted souvenir from a trip to India, landed Nat in an air-borne disease clinic for a three-month quarantine – good training for a year when words like “iso” and “self-quarantine” have entered our lexicon. He writes honestly about how activities like cooking and going to the beach have helped him manage his mental health. When so many people are struggling, Nat’s message of taking care of yourself strikes a chord.
In an industry which has a reputation for poor behaviour, “punching down” on minorities or making light of trauma, Nat’s comedy is a refreshing and timely break from the norm.
Nat admits that he can often “prattle” on, that he doesn’t read many books and is surprised to have written one himself. It’s true he’s no Anthony Bourdain, and Uncook Yourself is unlikely to win Nat any literary prizes or a massive new fanbase. But for those who follow Nat’s YouTube channel and comedy career, it is overall a decent side-dish to Nat’s menu of cooking videos.
In Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain writes about the people he worked with in the restaurant industry: misfits who didn’t fit into other parts of society, who shunned the world of 9-5 working life in favour of the fiery, drug-fuelled kitchens of New York. In some respects, Nat subscribes to the “misfit” label, but his relationship with food is healthier.
Uncook Yourself is the kind of book that could probably only exist in 2020, an unconventional but timely reflection on the good parts of cooking: sharing and enjoying food.