In a short time, 2018 has provided plenty of material to make people queasy, from a YouTubed corpse to a president bragging of his stable genius. But one piece of media that went viral in the year’s first days offered a particularly bizarre, and oddly inspired, gross-out experience.
Trigger warning: Chewing, spitting, and salmonella risk ahead.
In a video entitled “Cooking With Your Mouth” a woman prepares a Christmas stuffing by using only her teeth as utensils. Raw onion, garlic, carrots, and other items enter and leave her mouth on camera while she gamely struggles to maintain composure. At the end, the turkey she stuffed comes out of the oven looking magazine-perfect. She kisses it, then eats it.
An edited version, below, has received millions of views on Facebook and Twitter. The full, original clip is here.
white people already ruined 2018 pic.twitter.com/SDKxpdSc6T— sᴀʀᴀʜ, ᴛʜᴇ ʀᴇᴘᴏʀᴛᴇʀ (@amyharvard_) January 2, 2018
Some write-ups have treated the video as an earnest, if upsetting, cooking tutorial. One site referred to it as “the food trend that we never, ever asked for.” But the clip’s creator is the 29-year-old Australian video artist Nathan Ceddia. He has an entire catalogue of surreal, discomfiting work related to food.
I spoke to Ceddia over Skype for an answer to the question: Why does this exist? This conversation has been edited.
Spencer Kornhaber: Tell me about your background generally.
Nathan Ceddia: I’ve always been really interested in cooking. After school I studied hospitality and hotel management but hated it because I wanted to do something more creative. So I did things like try out for MasterChef, and then I studied video arts for three years.
[The project] that started off my food videos was a thing called “sneeze art.” Wasabi makes me sneeze; I was eating a sushi roll, and it went all over the wall. So I created a film about an artist [whose] painting work was done by sneezing onto a canvas. People actually believed that character was real.
After that, I moved to London and I worked for Bompas & Parr, which is a food design company. One of the projects we did was called “Cake Holes.” We invited 20 people into our studio and asked them to get naked and sit on cakes. It started to go viral, and we got a lot of emails from people who do sploshing. Do you know what sploshing is?
Kornhaber: I don’t think so.
Ceddia: Sploshing is where people cover themselves in food for fun. It’s maybe a sexual thing, but also a playful thing. There’s a whole community.
From there, I moved to Berlin and started creating videos for myself. The idea [for “Cooking With Your Mouth”] came to me when I was in my friend’s kitchen, having a meal. My friend was trying to find some utensils and I said, “Well if you don’t have utensils, why don’t you use your mouth? What’s the sharpest tool in the kitchen right now? It’s our teeth.”
On that night, I came up with maybe 10 recipes that I could do. But I sat on it for about two years, with it always in the back of my head. A few months ago we decided to film an episode with my friend Iska [Lupton]. She came over to Berlin for 24 hours—she’d never been there before—and we shot two recipes, one still to come. But we’ll keep that quiet for now.
Kornhaber: Oh god.
Ceddia: I can say that this one goes the next step. It goes even further.
Kornhaber: Like raw meat?
Ceddia: It’s very meaty. Yeah. There’s a lot of ripping, pulling, and tearing.
So we shot the episode. We had two cameras on her. Everything was real, we didn’t want to fake anything. She firstly chopped up the onion in her mouth, which was really full-on for her, and she cried tears. For me as the director, watching her, it was a bit challenging because you can’t help—all the pain was going on in her mouth. It got tougher once we got to the garlic, which started to burn. She was a pro. At the end of it, the meal that we turned out looked like it could have come from a restaurant. It was tasty; we all had a taste.
For us, it was a test to see, “If you didn’t have anything in the kitchen, what could you do to create a meal?” Obviously people think it’s gross, but you’re putting food in your mouth at the end of the day. If you’re cooking for a partner, someone you kiss, why not cook in a totally different way?
Kornhaber: There have been a couple of write-ups that took the video extremely at face value, saying that cooking with your mouth was a “trend” of 2018. What did you make of that reaction?
Ceddia: I think it’s a great trend for 2018. It’s making people think outside the square. Cooking has become boring. Everyone knows how to do it. Why not take it to the next step?
Kornhaber: But it’s a satire of cooking culture, right?
Ceddia: Well it’s definitely looking into cooking culture. Social media has overshared food too much. Everyone watches the cooking show, but no one cooks the meal. It’s become food porn, over-the-top and gross and extreme.
Kornhaber: It made me laugh because it resembles all those tiny viral cooking videos you see on Facebook about using some cutesy design or unconventional ingredient.
Ceddia: Yeah. I actually just applied for a job at [a publication that covers food] and went through a few rounds of interviews to be the content producer. I had to do a full document to show them how I’d get them views and “likes.” At the end they never contacted me. So maybe I felt a bit hard done by. I’d like to put “Cooking With Your Mouth” on their website.
Kornhaber: What draws you to food and cooking?
Ceddia: Since I was a young kid I’ve had a weird obsession with food. I come from an Italian background, and my Nonna used to feed us until we couldn’t eat anymore. I used to experiment with my sister in the kitchen when we were 6 or 7, putting things in the microwave and taking things out of the cupboard. Packets of chicken noodle soup with frozen peas—anything we could find, we would create a concoction.
I wanted to be a chef, and I worked in kitchens, [but] the chefs were crazy and usually alcoholics or addicted to drugs. So that threw me off a bit, and I went down a different path.
Kornhaber: A lot of your art plays with things that people consider disgusting, whether it’s chewing and spitting, or sneezing, or sitting on cakes. What’s your interest in disgust?
Ceddia: People think things are disgusting, but it’s something natural they do every day. What’s the difference between sitting naked on some grass or sitting on a cake you can wipe off? It’s all the same thing. It’s just context. And sneezing is something natural that happens all the time. Why can’t it be more than that? It’s not just a sneeze that happens and goes away—it’s something you can visualize. If you could see all the particles flying through the air, you’d see all the beauty in it.
Cooking with your mouth might be disgusting to people. But it also shows us what we don’t need. If you didn’t have a knife, what would you use? We are more powerful than we think we are.
I really like people who are taking food to the next level. There’s a girl called breadfaceblog. She’s got thousands of followers online, and every day she squashes another piece of bread on her face. I find that really interesting. She’s got this small piece of bread that people have been eating for thousands of years, and she’s gone, “What if it’s something else?”
Kornhaber: Have you heard of anyone cooking with their mouth since the video went up?
Ceddia: No, but I’m sure people will. I’d love to see people creating their own recipes and sending them to me, or requesting recipes. It’d be amazing to start a YouTube channel where we cook with our mouth.