Selena Gomez helps cook us through quarantine with this home-brew cooking show filled with charity and charm.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, there are plenty of us putting our stay-at-home time to learn new skills. At this point, who hasn’t taken deep dives on the Internet, checking out video tutorials to master a new craft during this never-ending quarantine? Personally I’ve been baking (and eating) more bread these past few months than any other time in my life, and my search history is page after page of recipes.
One of those striving to learn in lockdown is actor/singer Selena Gomez. In the delectable new HBO Max series Selena + Chef, Gomez uses her quarantine time to master tips and tricks via video chat from world-class chefs, hopefully upping her cooking game. Celebrities: they’re just like us! (Except with better lighting, chef-curated grocery drop-offs, and a tricked-out kitchen.)
In each episode, Gomez meets virtually with an acclaimed chef and they guide her through some of their signature dishes. Gomez admits she loves cooking, but has little experience in the kitchen, and what better time than the present to improve her cooking skills. Lucky for her, she moved into a new house right before quarantine, complete with a fancy kitchen that would make Nancy Meyers’ mouth water.
Every chef has a set of knives, and Gomez’s knives are out of this world. Every time she pulls one from her knife block, the iridescent blade catches the eyes of the guest chef who comments on their allure and their ability to cut through paper (did you know this is a great way to test the blade’s sharpness?), sever octopus heads, and finely chop chives. They make no mention of the brand, but after doing some internet searching, I’d bet they are the Marco Almond Rainbow Titanium Cutlery. Mark my words, Gomez’s knives will probably have their own Instagram account before quarantine ends.
Knives out and kitchen aside, the production design of the show is not your standard cooking show format. Rather than let the limitations of the lockdown hinder production, they’ve used it to their advantage. HBO spared no expense equipping Gomez’s space with cameras to catch every cooking angle. To maintain social distancing, Gomez is filmed before each episode testing each camera, and micing herself. To communicate with each other, Gomez and the chefs have video conferencing systems.
Joining the cast are the quarantine partners of Gomez and the chefs, who are ready to “come in hot” and offer assistance with food preparation and video presentation. Mix all these ingredients together and voilà – you’ve got a quarantine cooking show!
Mark my words, Gomez’s knives will probably have their own Instagram account before quarantine ends.
Gomez is a charming and fun host, even when she mistakes her gas range for an electric stovetop. She’s ready to roll up the sleeves of her $400 sweatshirt and jump into the world of cooking. The first episode finds her learning two French staples, the omelette and cheese souffle, from chef Ludo Lefebvre (seen in Netflix’s The Mind of a Chef and known for his pop-up restaurant LudoBites in Los Angeles). He might be a master of these French classics, but she schools him on an American classic: the fried Oreo. She cooks, and Lefebvre ends up singing a made-up song to her. Neither one might be switching careers anytime soon, but their enjoyment at connecting, even if virtually, can be felt through the screen.
The techniques become a little more advanced in episode two. Gomez is joined by chef Antonia Lofaso (seen in Top Chef and known for her restaurant DAMA in Los Angeles) as she teaches Gomez about “echo taste” while making seafood tostadas. Lofaso uses lemon to season different ingredients of the dish as a way to thread a flavor throughout the dish, hence “echoing” in each bite. The “echo taste” of Selena + Chef is ebullience. Gomez might burn her green tea matcha cookies or clump ramen noodles in her soup, but she puts a lot of cheer into the dishes she makes, and we could all use any cheer we can get during this dark time in the world.
If that’s not sweet enough for you, each show ends with the guest chef highlighting a charity close to their heart (charities in the first episodes include World Central Kitchen and City Harvest), and Gomez tells us that the show is donating $10,000 to each organization. These moments allow Gomez and her guests to open up and be vulnerable with each other. It’s a great reminder that sharing a meal can let us share our emotions, and if that’s not important right now, then I don’t know what is.
In episode two, Chef Antonia Lofaso’s charity is Beit T’Shuvah, an addiction treatment and rehab center in Los Angeles, which allows Gomez to discuss her recent bipolar diagnosis and the importance of mental health. This is the special ingredient that elevates this cooking series above a lot of other reality shows. I’m sure Selena + Chef could have been produced without the charity aspect, but to have her and the guests use their platforms to spotlight causes like food shortages and mental health in this time is *chef’s kiss* perfection.
To extend the food metaphors even further, Selena + Chef is like a souffle: on the surface, the ingredients seem simple and basic, but as you work your way through it, the complexities become more apparent. I dare not say I hope there’s a season two (because that would mean a longer time for all of us in quarantine), but if we have to spend several more months cooking at home, we might as well do it with Selena.
Selena + Chef cooks fabulous meals in over-decorated celebrity kitchens on HBO Max starting August 13th.