Back in March, when we were all locked in our houses, many of us turned to new talents and hobbies to get through. Sourdoughs loaves were baked, herb gardens were planted and air fryers became a sudden craze. But despite this return to home cooking goodness, supermarkets still managed to sell out of jarred pasta sauces.
While many customers walked away aghast at the lack of sauce in a bottle, it managed to really annoy one person in particular. Nat of Nat’s What I Reckon decided to wage a war with his YouTube channel by showing us just how easy it is to cook what comes in a packet. And Australia paid attention.
What Nat reckons
Nat has been making videos for his channel Nat’s What I Reckon for over ten years, steadily gaining popularity for his swearing, no-nonsense, piss-takes. He’s covered everything from raiding Area 51 to why Australians love to complain about how bloody hot it is, all in his trademark, very genuine, comedic style. But it was his cooking videos that turned this local Sydney-sider into a new name in the YouTube cooking channel lineup.
Lifehacker Australia was lucky enough to talk to the lockdown legend himself and find out what it was about his cooking videos that broke through to Australians everywhere.
“At the time, the thing that was shitting me the most was that people were buying the stupidest shit at the shops. One of those things happened to be a mortal enemy of mine and that’s the jar sauce. I thought, wouldn’t it be funny to make a video saying this fucking boring shit here is actually really easy to make and you’ve got the skills to make it.” Nat said.
So, a cooking series was launched and packets on shelves trembled in fear. Starting with “How to make Quarantine Sauce”, Nat showed the world simple and easy ways to cook a range of favourite dishes, while ruthlessly taking the piss out of their packaged counterparts. Carbo-Rona sauce, End of Days Bolognese, Chili Con Can’t Go Outside and Self Pie-solation all followed, inspiring hundreds of thousands of views. Suddenly, Nat was reaching internet milestones he’d been building to for years.
Did he expect that response from a few cooking videos? “Abso-bloody-lutely not.”
The path to cooking stardom
The online cooking market is increasingly saturated, with creators fighting for a unique perspective. There are channels out there, like Jennifer Garner with her Pretend Cooking Show or Laura Vitale, with big-name star power to back them up. But Nat didn’t need any of that to hit over a million views. So what was it about Nat’s What I Reckon that struck a chord?
“Of course people love cooking videos. I love cooking videos; people love watching other people cook. But mixing that with what I usually do, which is being pretty frank with my opinion about things, just seemed to be the trick,” he said.
The simple-yet-impressive nature of Nat’s recipes also seemed to be a winner with audiences. There’s something comforting in his relatability, not to mention the fact that he is a self-taught cook. “I’ve had some pretty good cooks around me in my life, my dad being one of them. But more or less, it’s been trial by fire over the years. I’m not making extravagant meals, I’m just doing these classic hits and trying to get really good at it,” he said.
“Food brings people together and that’s what really attracted me to cooking. I’ve lived in large share houses for so long and what makes me the happiest fella is having as many people as I can fit in my house and feeding them all.”
Nat’s genuine love for cooking, paired with his personal brand of comedy (and hatred of “jar sauce”) was something fresh and fun that the world needed at the time.
Following the cooking videos, Nat’s follower count skyrocketed. His average cooking video has over 100,000 views with some smashing the 1 million mark. “The cooking videos have increased our viewership by some crazy number like 800%. I’d be missing a trick not to keep making those,” Nat said.
But the sudden rise in popularity hasn’t inflated any sort of ego in Nat. He and his partner, Jules, have built the channel from the ground up and continue to engage with viewers on a more personal level, often replying personally to as many comments as possible. Even after collaborating with big names, like Machine Gun Kelly, the focus is still on fun for Nat.
“I love the collab stuff. It’s a new adventure for me. But I want to collab with people who aren’t necessarily hugely famous as well, it’s all about having fun.”
The momentum has only continued for Nat, who is now touring on the stand-up comedy circuit and has even written his own book. That last one is something he never expected. “If you’d asked me a year ago would I ever write a book, I’d say no chance, no way,” he said.
“I’m not someone who’s read a particularly large amount of books. I found it really tough to read books, so in terms of writing one, it was certainly never something I saw myself doing. But I’m glad I did.”
The book in question is Un-Cook Yourself: A Ratbag’s Rules for Life, which is available now. The book is the culmination of many life lessons and includes a few, amazingly illustrated, new recipes. Nat rejected the idea of coming out with a sole cookbook, instead choosing to infuse the book with the spirit of his channel and his broader life experiences.
“We wanted the book to be as similar to my channel as possible. I wanted it to have as much of my channel-ness and comedy in book form. And then we came up with the idea to illustrate the recipes.” Nat said.
Each chapter in the book presents a life lesson, from “laugh when you’re not supposed to”, “seek and destroy normalcy” to, you guessed it, “fuck jar sauce”. With its bright yellow design, random breakouts into “is it shit?” columns and unfiltered language, the book really does feel like a translation of Nat from video to page. Reading it is exactly like watching an extended one of his videos – a barrel of laughs with some down to earth advice.
Nat’s ultimate hacks
This brings us to some very important questions. Nat’s ultimate hacks, for cooking and for life.
His cooking videos made waves for introducing some controversial ideas, like not putting every single ingredient in your fridge into your pasta sauce. But for Nat, like many others, it was the milk that was an eye-opener.
“The big one is also the most controversial one, which is the milk in the bolognese sauce. That’s a little known secret. I think it’s a traditional Italian secret. And brown sugar in sauce. Those two have been game-changers for me.”
When it comes to life, Nat’s been through a lot. But he’s come out on the other side advocating strongly for mental health and seeking to create content that makes others laugh. So it makes sense that his number one rule for life is:
“If people tell you you’re not funny and that’s not the way to do something, but you love it, then just keep doing it. Stick to your guns and give yourself a break, at the same time. And then go for a swim in the ocean.”
What’s next, champions?
Now that Nat is continuing his content on the page, on the stage, and on our screens, it’s a question of where next for the cooking champ. He’s going to continue collaborating on his videos with creators big and small (Dave Grohl is his dream guest) and he also wants to get back into playing music with his band, a hobby close to his heart.
As for cooking, Nat says he’d be mad not to continue making his videos. An attempt at making sushi may even be a challenge in his future, “If I could make sashimi into a household thing, that would be fucking unreal.”
In what can only be described as one hell of a year, content like Nat’s has been a welcome distraction from the uncertainty of the outside world. It may have started as a case of making the most out of a bad situation, but Nat’s What I Reckon cut through the YouTube cooking scene with relatable videos that encouraged Australians to laugh and eat healthier when we needed it most; turning it into an infinitely better situation for all of us.
Un-cook Yourself: A Ratbag’s Rules for Life by Nat’s What I Reckon, published by Penguin Random House on 1 December 2020, RRP $32.99. Or if you’d rather hear it from Nat himself, grab the audiobook.