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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, January 10, 2018 1:00 am

Mouth-cooking creators spit out viral hit

Maura Judkis | Washington Post

Hey, have you heard about mouth cooking? If you are thinking, “Cooking with your mouth sounds kind of disgusting,” I am hear to tell you: It will exceed all of your expectations.

In a video that has gone viral on YouTube, we first meet a British woman who introduces herself as “Riva Godfrey.” She's in one of those impossibly well-lit kitchens that you see in Nancy Meyers films. She is here to show us how to make stuffing for a turkey and has her mise-en-place spread out around her. If you are a very astute viewer, you'll notice that there are no knives or spoons present.

Our friend Riva begins with a mirepoix, as so many recipes do. But instead of dicing her onion, carrot and celery, she has an innovative approach: She peels the onion, and then bites into it as if it's an apple, chewing it until it's about the consistency of a dice, and then spitting it into a bowl. “A bit teary,” she says, as the onion's pungency begins to overwhelm her, and her nose runs. Then comes the carrot and the celery, chewed and spat. “Put it in your mouth, chop it up a bit further, and get it out, so we're getting nice, even pieces,” she says.

She rips parsley apart with her teeth. She bites chunks off a loaf of bread. A lemon comes out – “for safety's sake, I am not going to use a zester,” she says – and she zests the lemon by scraping it with her front teeth. She crunches peppercorns with her teeth, and warms some butter up in there. And to bind the stuffing, she cracks a raw egg into her mouth, swishing it around as if it were mouthwash, before spitting it out into the bowl, mashing it all together (with her hands, thank goodness) and defiling a poor turkey by cramming this giant spitball into its carcass. When it comes out of the oven, crisp and brown, she kisses it.

We are only a few days into 2018, and already, it has unleashed some absolutely insane ideas about food. Recently, the world learned about “raw water,” which is unfiltered and untreated, and can command prices as high as $60 for two and a half gallons (included in that price: the potential to get a parasite!). And now we have mouth cooking, which should be called “baby birding” because that's nearly what's happening here. Even though the food is cooked, potentially killing some of the germs that a diner could catch from the cook's mouth, to think about the health effects of this practice is to take it too seriously. Because the visceral reaction, for most people, is a resounding “Oh hell no.” The video quickly went viral.

The whole thing seems so weird and asocial that you might think: Is this some kind of conceptual art?

You are correct: The video was directed by Nathan Ceddia, a 29-year-old Berlin-based filmmaker from Australia. The viscerality of food is a major theme in his films and photography.

Ceddia said the video “was made in all seriousness,” believe it or not. “We wanted to create a new type of cooking.”

He had been mulling the idea of a video that would shake food trend-watchers out of their complacency. Seeing other food videos go viral, “No one's pushing the boundaries, no one's thinking outside the spoon or the plate,” Ceddia said. “I wanted to create a type of cooking that makes people think a bit more.”

Perhaps it's a different type of Paleo diet: “Why not bring it back to where it all began, when (people) had to cook with their mouth?”

For the record: There is no evidence that ancient humans pre-chewed their food as a method of combining ingredients to cook it for other adults. According to the anthropology magazine Sapiens, humans have been using tools to prepare food for 3.4 million years. Scientists believe that ancient cooking techniques were developed so that early humans would have to chew less. And while there is a micro-trend of American moms premasticating their infants' food, led by the actress Alicia Silverstone – and this is also a practice in some less-developed countries – it poses a disease risk for children.

Ceddia, who says he practices both conventional and mouth cooking at home, isn't afraid of germs, though. “If the food is properly cooked afterwards, it's fine,” he said. “Wash your mouth out with a bit of mouthwash. Cook for a partner – you don't have to cook for a whole group of people.”

Knives, he thinks, are more dangerous. Choking, another potential hazard from mouth cooking, is less of a concern for Ceddia, but statistically, choking is more dangerous.

Ceddia is working on more mouth cooking videos and says he has about 50 recipes ready to go. He says many things are easily adaptable to the format.

“If you're at home and you wanted to make a quick omelet, all you have to do is crack a few eggs, and whisk them in your mouth. That would only take a few seconds,” he said. “Just do what feels right.”