“I’m tryin’, I’m tryin’, I’m tryin’, I’m tryin’, I’m tryin’,” Selena Gomez croons in the opening background music for her new quarantine cooking show, Selena + Chef. The lyrics, from Gomez’s 2017 hit track “Bad Liar,” are an accurate summation of the singer-actress’s culinary efforts for HBO Max. Despite her fame, wealth, and legions of fans, Gomez kind of sucks at cooking, but at least she’s gamely willing to try. To that, I must applaud, “Good for you.”
In each episode, Gomez is paired with a famous chef — the full list includes Angelo Sosa, Antonia Lofaso, Candice Kumai, Daniel Holzman, Jon & Vinny, Ludo Lefebvre, Nancy Silverton, Nyesha Arrington, Roy Choi, and Tanya Holland — who guides her through a signature recipe, ranging in difficulty from ramen to seafood tostadas. Due to the constraints of the coronavirus pandemic, this cooking class takes place remotely, with the chef and Gomez filming from their respective homes and interacting with each other via video call. Watching — and occasionally helping — from the sidelines are Gomez’s quarantine buddies and family, who are eager to sample the end product when the singer invites them to come and get it.
Gomez is a blank slate of a host: both inoffensively charming and relatable in her sweats, in her laments about lacking a boyfriend, and in her confusion over how to navigate her (spacious, open, well-stocked) kitchen. The first time she wields a knife, clumsily chopping chives for Lefebvre’s classic French omelet, I find myself wishing she would slow down, look at her knife now, and keep her hands — and her fingers, splayed perilously close to the blade — to herself. Gomez functions best as an enthusiastic proxy for beginner cooks at home, those who learn how to feed themselves one painstaking YouTube tutorial at a time.
Naturally, those novices don’t have the benefit of a professional chef on the opposite side of the screen, acting as both patient tutor and encouraging helpline whenever Gomez fumbles a step, like burning her version of cookbook author Kumai’s matcha chocolate chip cookies. Lefebvre himself overcooks an omelet, showing that even the pros aren’t infallible. All you can really do is shrug it off and try again, as Lefebvre demonstrates. For young fans and inexperienced home cooks who have found themselves using their kitchens a lot more than they ever have before, it’s a comforting, gentle reminder in hard times: cooking is a journey, and the destination doesn’t have to be picture-perfect. The heart wants what it wants, but the stomach is a bit more forgiving.
The first three episodes of Selena + Chef are now streaming on HBO Max, with future episodes airing on Thursdays throughout August.