August 5, 2021 3:30:05 pm
Written by Christina Morales
In a twinkling black dress with feathery sleeves and high heels, Paris Hilton is in the kitchen making a steak dinner with her mother and sister. Before they arrive, she digs a spoon into a tin of caviar and gives a bite to her dog. Flakes of 23-karat gold stick on her fingers as she adds it to homemade truffle butter.
“It’s not the most practical cooking outfit, but I like to cook in style,” she says as the feathers from her outfit drift all over the kitchen counter.
Hilton doesn’t pretend to know how to cook. On “Cooking With Paris,” her new six-episode cooking series on Netflix, she’s not afraid to make messy mistakes. The program is the latest in a recent wave of cooking shows, like “Selena + Chef” and “Amy Schumer Learns to Cook,” hosted by celebrities who lack culinary experience.
“I love cooking,” Hilton says in the introduction to her show, which was released in full Aug. 4. “But I’m not a trained chef, and I’m not trying to be.”
Each episode features one of her friends, including Kim Kardashian West, Saweetie and Demi Lovato, who help her prepare meals. After the cooking is done, they sit down to eat in Hilton’s home, which she decorates for the theme of the dinner.
A pink cookbook bearing a portrait of Hilton serves as a wink to the viewer. It’s where she keeps new recipes, each paragraph a different colour.
She finds recipes from a variety of sources and relies on producers with culinary expertise, said Aaron Saidman, an executive producer of “Cooking With Paris” as well as “Selena + Chef,” on HBO Max.
Not every dish on “Cooking With Paris” is a masterpiece.
“Even in failure, a good time can be had by all,” Saidman said. “But in many cases, they made things that were tasty.”
Hilton’s foray into cooking TV follows that of actress Selena Gomez, who used “Selena + Chef” at the beginning of the pandemic to improve her cooking, and of comedian Schumer and her husband, chef Chris Fischer, who prepared meals on the Food Network.
Celebrities share meals with their fans all the time. Britney Spears showed viewers how to make her favorite sandwich on Instagram. Last weekend, Jennifer Garner uploaded a video on Instagram of her cooking blackberry cobbler with her mother.
Brian Boitano, an Olympic gold medalist figure skater, was ahead of the curve with his Food Network cooking show, “What Would Brian Boitano Make?” which ended in 2010. Many celebrities, he said, have adopted his show’s model.
“The reason Food Network resisted this celebrity chef kind of thing was because they weren’t experts in food, and that’s a head-scratcher because that’s who is watching your network, people like me,” he said.
On her show, Hilton leans in to her persona as clueless heiress. Each episode begins with a trip to the grocery store, where she wears sparkly face masks and outfits more suited to a nightclub than the produce aisle.
“Excuse me, sir, what do chives look like?” she asks a worker in one episode. “What do I do with it?”
She buys ingredients related to the theme of the episode. In a segment about preparing an expensive steak dinner, she ponders $1,000 truffles; in another, she stocks up on fresh flour and corn tortillas, Cotija cheese and tomatillos for taco night.
When she gets to her home kitchen, she pulls out her glittering cooking utensils, at one point accidentally burning the gemstones on her sparkly spatula as she flattens vegan burgers on a grill pan.
Throughout, she throws around the word “sliving,” a term she coined that to blend the phrases “slaying it” and “living your best life.” (She has applied for a trademark on the word for tableware and other merchandise.)
Other terms seem to elude her. “What is a whisk? What’s whisking?” she asked comedian Nikki Glaser as they made vegan burgers, fries and milkshakes.
Saidman got the idea for Hilton’s show when he uploaded a 15-minute YouTube video in January 2020 called “Cooking With Paris” in which she showed viewers how to make lasagna. The video now has nearly 5.2 million views.
Saidman had worked with her on her documentary “This Is Paris,” and wanted to create something more lighthearted while still shooting the new show like a documentary.
“We thought it’d be fun to delve into her cooking skills, or lack thereof,” he said.
The show occasionally veers into contentious conversations about foods and ingredients that seem oblivious to the current discussions about misrepresentation or whitewashing of traditional dishes and ingredients.
Introducing a shrimp taco night episode with Saweetie, Hilton says, “I like my tacos to be very American-style, crispy shell with ground beef and cheese, especially if it’s from Taco Bell. But I’m ready to try something totally outside my taco comfort zone.”
She buys a piñata shaped like a taco. She mispronounces Cotija cheese even as producers try to help her say it correctly. While talking about tomatillos for a roasted salsa she says: “It looks like a weird apple or something, I don’t know. At the market yesterday, I was like, ‘What is this thing?’”
“She’s trying to learn,” Saidman said.
Clueless cooking actually does something for the viewer, said Kelsi Matwick, a lecturer at the University of Florida and author of the book “Food Discourse of Celebrity Chefs of Food Network.” Seeing people without culinary experience make mistakes, she said, creates intimacy with the viewer, especially for the average home cook.
But it takes a special host to keep a cooking show running, Matwick said.
“It’s intimacy at a distance. Cooking show hosts are considered our friends and families,” she said. A chef’s ability to tell stories and connect them to the food is more important than any techniques, she added.
“We’re all drawn to stories.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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