Unless you’re an obsessed Selena Gomez fan, it’s hard to imagine anything less interesting than a 10-part TV series about her learning to cook.
Or so I would have thought five or six months ago, pre-pandemic. Maybe it’s just because I’ve been stuck at home since mid-March, but there’s something kind of charming and fun about “Selena + Chef,” which starts streaming Thursday, Aug. 13, on HBO Max.
Gomez is connected via video to a variety of chefs who teach her how to make a variety of dishes. She’s in her house; the chefs are in their houses, and — while Gomez tries her best — things don’t always turn out so great.
“I did sign up to look like a fool on HBO Max,” she says.
Well, not so much a fool as a kitchen novice. And a regular person — which is probably good for her image.
“We wanted this to be a fun, escapist ride for the viewer,” said executive producer Aaron Saidman.
The dishes range from a French omelet — which was “really difficult because I’m just so used to doing it the American way” — to her “most challenging” dish, calamari, “just because I really, really didn’t like that,” Gomez said. “It was a whole process that I’m OK never doing again in my life. … But it was delicious, I will say that.”
While it doesn’t exactly translate through the TV screen, Chef Antonia Lofaso insisted there was an element of danger to the show. She said she was “genuinely concerned that there was going to be an oil fire” as she instructed Gomez how to cook the octopus. “I kept just screaming, ‘Are we sure that the oil is OK?’ … My maternal instinct [was] she’s going to start a fire, and it’s going to be my fault.”
“I didn’t burn my house down,” Gomez said with a laugh. (Belated spoiler alert!)
The singer/actress admitted that being isolated at home during the pandemic has “definitely” left her feeling “down,” and she did the show to pick both herself and viewers up.
“Of course, there’s more important things going on, but this was an opportunity to make something that could make people smile,” she said. “I hope they’re going to laugh.”
The people seen with Gomez — her grandparents and a couple of friends — are quarantining with her in her home. And, according to Saidman, producers had a “very, very strict and carefully thought out set of safety protocols” — not just in Gomez’s home, but in the chefs’ homes. “Selena + Chef” was shot with remote cameras, so there were no crew members present during filming.
“It was actually so strange because there’s no one in my house, but there’s these cameras everywhere,” she said. “At night, though, I was so creeped out. I was, like, are they still on?” Gomez said.
“We turned them off, I promise,” Saidman said.
The weirdest thing about “Selena + Chef” is that it’s watchable. Even for someone (like me) who is not a big Selena Gomez fan. Not that I have anything against her. I thought she was fine back when she did a lot of Disney Channel shows — including 106 episodes of “The Wizards of Waverly Place” — but, no, I’m not one of her obsessed fans.
Maybe it’s just because I can’t get out much, either, since COVID-19 changed the world … but there’s something oddly engaging about this cooking show.