HBO Max's 'Selena + Chef' Is the Best Kind of COVID TV

Selena Gomez's instructional cooking show starts its second season and remains delightful.

selena + chef, selena gomez

Over the past year—geez, can you believe it's been a year?—the entertainment industry has attempted to use the pandemic to its advantage the best it can. Doug Liman flew himself to England to make a COVID-inspired heist movie. HBO made its election-themed Coastal Elites over the internet. But those projects have just stressed me out. No matter what you do, watching celebs acting to their computer screens is never not awkward. There is one pandemic TV show that is actually soothing, even though it involves watching a pop star almost cut her fingers off multiple times. 

I have recently become addicted to Selena + Chef, which begins its second season on HBO Max this week. The concept of Selena + Chef is simple: Musician and actor Selena Gomez virtually invites famous chefs into her (stunning) kitchen and they teach her how to make a meal. The hook is that Gomez is very enthusiastic, but absolutely a mess in the kitchen. As the culinary experts walk her through dishes of various difficulty levels, they also have to teach her basic skills like how not to maim herself and what the convection button on her fancy oven is. The show ends up being part-educational, part-inspirational lifestyle porn. (Did I mention her kitchen is gorgeous?) At the end, a $10,000 donation goes to the charity of Gomez's guest's choice. Altogether, it's a delight. 

In the second season, Selena has gotten a little more skilled since LA restaurateur Ludo Lefebvre yelled at her while teaching her how to make a French omelette in the series premiere. This batch of episodes kick off with Selena learning to make steak with Curtis Stone, getting a lesson in gumbo from Fieldtrip's JJ Johnson, and assembling a tapas feast with the highly entertaining José Andrés

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Okay, yes, Gomez lives in a nearly $5 million home once owned by Tom Petty, with basically every kitchen appliance one could possibly need and a trendy, swanky set of iridescent rainbow knives. She doesn't need to shop for her groceries because the contents of each meal are sent to her doorstep. Still, somehow, despite all of the privilege on display, Selena + Chef remains accessible, possibly because Selena herself is, well, pretty clueless.

The chefs are forced to really explain their methods in a way that is helpful for nearly all amateur chefs. The next time I cook rice, I plan on using the method Johnson teaches Gomez. (Don't wash the rice. Coat it on the bottom of a pan. Fill with water to reach your first knuckle on your middle finger. Throw some bay leaves in there. Cover. Simmer on medium heat.) Andrés gives her the recipe for an egg/mayo/manchego cheese creation that is cooked via microwave and dropped on top of piquillo peppers. It seems so easy and delicious, I'm definitely going to try it. (All the recipes for the show are available here.) 

Gomez does most of the work herself, but is often joined by her grandparents, who serve Statler and Waldorf vibes, and whatever pals happen to be quarantining with her at that moment. I personally love Raquelle Stevens and her "I'm just here for the ride" energy, which involves helping out occasionally, relishing in the food, and sometimes texting on screen. 

Selena + Chef is actually the perfect show to watch while you're cooking yourself, which is what I've been doing recently. It serves as both a soothing soundtrack and a reminder that it's okay to fuck up. I recently had an episode playing when I broke an entire jar of capers taking them out of my fridge, scattering glass all over my kitchen floor. A very Selena move. My setup is in no way as glamorous as Gomez's, but like her, I'm just trying to make good food in a shitty time.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.