REVIEW: “Selena + Chef” Episodes 1-3

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Selena+Chef

Selena+Chef is an unscripted HBO Max original, showcasing actress and pop star Selena Gomez as she learns to cook in quarantine. While she’s cooked basic items before, Selena now enlists a gourmet chef each episode, by a video call from their own homes, to teach her the intricacies of cooking that she has never attempted before. All while she’s using her kitchen in her new house for the first time. While the show takes some time to find its footing in its first three episodes, the result is a mostly enjoyable, fun, and insightful cooking journey.

Selena+Chef initially feels staged, but once Selena gets more comfortable and excited to be cooking, even when she still messes up, it’s more enjoyable to watch. Selena starts off being uncomfortable cooking, with some awkward forced humor with her initial chef coach Ludo Lefevbre. I realized that while it starts off rough, that’s actually the point, even though the first episode didn’t fully land. We’re may feel initially bored, but as she learns more in this cooking journey, we the audience learn along with her and enjoy the show much more.

Selena+Chef has a rather odd, though understandable setup, due to the quarantine, but it ultimately is able to make its video teaching structure work. It is supposed to have the aim of “relatability” to the audience that also wants to learn to cook. It has the aim of being relatable to others in quarantine learning to cook for themselves for the first time. Cooking should always be fun and relatable in its presentation. Ideally, we should have a fun time learning with Selena. But the first episode feels like a top-down instruction from gourmet chefs who introduce only the most “prestige” cooking techniques, and it’s somewhat unenjoyable to watch. Thankfully, by the time we reach the third episode, that is far less of a concern and the audience and Selena feel more at ease.

It is still fascinating to learn how to cook the more complex recipes, and the guest chefs with Selena do a good job of relaying these to the audience. They also each relay some tidbits of their own journey to their profession. As the chefs guide her step by step on making these delicious dishes, from the more simple omelet to the more complex seafood tostada or spicy miso ramen, the audience increasingly gets insight into the making of these delicious recipes. The show initially suffers from too much overbearing focus on the chef personality, rather than the joy of making the food itself.

Of course, there’s a place for the awkward fun of learning to cook for the first time, but there was an insufficient focus, including in the cinematography, on the food itself. However, it markedly improves over these three episodes. Perhaps that’s the point: as Selena learns to enjoy cooking the food, the show gets going and there is more focus on the food. And it always looks delicious….even when it’s not fully cooked or burnt.

The third episode, with Candice Kumai, is by far the best, and when the show fully finds its stride. At this point, the show reaches an excellent balance of focusing on the personalities and the food they’re making. The cinematography of the food is also best in this episode focusing on the beautifully lit Japanese cuisine. Making spicy miso ramen and matcha chocolate chip cookies under Candice’s tutelage, Selena is more confident to dig into the cooking process, and we’re excited for her. Even as she still messes some things up. As Selena says, “I did sign up to look like a fool on HBO Max.”

The show is warm and funny, though again it takes a minute to get there from the initial episode. The humor, like the cooking process, becomes more organic and earnest as the show goes on.  After the initial episode on French cooking, we feel a lot more energy in the second episode with Antonia Lafaso focusing on Italian cooking, along with the third episode with Candice. Despite a bumpy first outing, Selena+Chef gets to the truly delightful and tantalizing territory.

Each chef also highlights charities they’d like viewers to be aware of, like World Central Kitchen, Beit T’Shuvah, and City Harvest, all of which are aiding in the effort to help those affected by the pandemic. Selena donates to them and encourages viewers to do so. In her conversations with some f these chefs, Selena is candid on why she cares about these charities, relaying personal struggles, such as her and her family’s own struggles with mental health. It’s a wonderful and encouraging use of her platform as she has fun on her show.

The first three episodes of Selena+Chef are mostly enjoyable and a promising first outing for this series, which promises more chefs to teach us and Selena about the joys of cooking. While we’re all still stuck at home during quarantine, it may ultimately give viewers inspiration on how to make an intricate feast, and have fun in the process.

You can watch the first three episodes of Selena+Chef now on HBO Max, with new episodes dropping every Thursday.

Selena+Chef
  • 8.2/10
    Rating - 8.2/10
8.2/10

TL;DR

The first three episodes of Selena+Chef are mostly enjoyable and a promising first outing for this series, which promises more chefs to teach us and Selena about the joys of cooking. While we’re all still stuck at home during quarantine, it may ultimately give viewers inspiration on how to make an intricate feast, and have fun in the process.