Paris Hilton and her sous chef, a dog.
Photo: Kit Karzen/NETFLIX
Ever since Julia Child first braised beef bourguignon for television audiences in 1963, American cooking shows have rooted their teaching in an illusion of ease. Of course you can cook. Everybody can cook ! All you do is follow the steps. The hosts – celebrity chefs, chefs who might be famous, non-celebrity chefs like Selena Gomez – prepare ambitious meals with minimal effort, using an ambitious number of clean bowls. The promise of Food TV is that you can become like them. We are all in there, the kitchen is promising. We’re all one tutorial away from living in a spotless East Hampton villa with our doting husband Jeffrey.
But now there is Cooking with Paris. The show, which will air on Netflix this week, is about cooking with Paris Hilton. On the surface, it looks like a standard Netflix food filler from the service that has already brought us Acid Fatty Salt Heat, The chef’s showand Cooked. But it’s so much stranger. Cooking with Paris shakes the very foundations of culinary television.
This development isn’t apparent in the premise, which is pretty much what you’d expect. “I love cook, but I’m not a trained chef,” Hilton muses at the start of each episode, explaining that she’s found new recipes to expand her culinary repertoire and now invites friends over to try them. In the first, Hilton briefly and vaguely suggests that this project has to do with how she gets married and wants to be a mom soon, which I found exciting. It could be like an updated version of this 1908 classic The Bride’s Cookbookbut on Netflix and with Paris Hilton!
Alas, that’s not it. Instead, the plot of the first episode is that ex-Hilton employee Kim Kardashian West arrives and the two make French toast with sprinkles on it and a frittata using a recipe Hilton says she found on Internet. “No one has partied harder than you and looks like you,” Kardashian West told Hilton, who smiled. “I’m an alien,” she told him.
As the series progresses, it’s never quite clear what Hilton knows or doesn’t know about cooking. She has no trouble caramelizing the tops of the marshmallows with a small butane torch, but moments later she seems alarmed by the fundamental mechanics of the toast. (“Why does it keep spinning Chestnut? When comedian Nikki Glaser drops by to make vegan burgers and fries in episode three, Hilton is unable to identify a whip but seems remarkably comfortable with a deep fryer.
What is this show? I kept thinking, going through the four available episodes, getting more and more restless for reasons I couldn’t explain. And why?
The most cynical read is that Hilton, who is clearly sensitive to branding opportunities, posted a semi-satirical video of herself making her “famous lasagna” in January 2020, 5 million people watched it watched, and Netflix bought it. This may be the correct reading, but it is not very satisfying; they could have done something else, and instead they did this.
To understand this Cooking with Paris that is, it is useful to start with what it is not: it is not informative. It is neither practical nor culinary interesting. There aren’t any useful tips or tricks or fun cultural facts, the kind of anecdotes you might come up with, years later, if you were ever at a party and someone asked, “So , what’s wrong with Himalayan salt?
It’s not funny, although the twist is that it’s not serious either. It’s as if it were should to be satirical, except that it doesn’t satirize anything specific. The joke is that Paris Hilton is Paris Hilton—classic—only now she’s cooking, sort of, in a giant kitchen she looks like she’s never stepped into before, surrounded by assistants, dressed in cocktail dresses and mittens. He is certainly self-aware. Maybe sometimes it’s fun? He feels like a spiritual successor to simple life, in which Hilton landed in Central America and did normal things in Central America, like grocery shopping or working in a drive-thru. But while Hilton has allowed herself to be the butt of the joke on this series – it’s always funny to see an overconfident socialite asking “What is Walmart?” — there’s no clear punchline when Hilton just can’t pull off the effortless charade of a typical cooking show, largely because she doesn’t try.
Hilton likes to cook. We know because she tells us at the top of every episode. But she approaches the task with an antiseptic reserve. She very rarely tastes what she makes and often protects herself with rubber gloves. “I can’t even cope,” Hilton sighs when she and Demi Lovato mess up the dough for their homemade ravioli, but whatever. She has other “normal” ravioli waiting in the fridge. You can buy more. “Is the problem with extreme wealth that there are no stakes?” I asked a friend, who agreed that, yes, it could be one of them.
Hilton is so confident, she claims, of her own abilities, regularly proclaiming that she is, at all times, “killing it” — or sometimes “slicing,” her trademark portmanteau of “the kill” and “kill” – without being encumbered with knowledge. or details. And the thing is, his food usually comes out great! Maybe the aspirational part, I was thinking, isn’t she stressed about all this? Like how she’s not afraid to make mistakes? And when she does, it’s kinda…good? I have offered this reading to several people. None of them seemed convinced, but one suggested it might be something to work on with a therapist.
The show works best not as entertainment, but as a deconstruction of the genre, destroying the illusions of throw-and-stir television. “Everything is false !” Cooking with Paris whispers in her sexy baby voice. Of course, your life will never look like this; all this is a mirage! Are you famous? Do you have an army of production assistants? Give it up; the deck is stacked. And yet, it is so laborious! No task is easy in Hilton’s kitchen despite the helpers and double dishwashers and marble countertops and two sinks full of pots and pans.
You watch this show and you don’t want to be Paris Hilton, or befriend her, or eat her glittery cannoli, or pet her many little dogs. Hilton is not a better, brighter version of you. Hilton is whole thing she doesn’t look like you at all. Her life is nothing like yours, and she doesn’t want it, and you neither. Culinary television is not made for that. Revolving around her lavish kitchen in stilettos, Hilton manages to demolish all TV cooking tropes, including the main one, which is that cooking, and also living, can be, in some sense, fun.
The overall effect doesn’t seem to have been intentional, necessarily, but it’s undeniable. The resulting spectacle is oddly lonely and slightly sad, a small woman in a large kitchen chatting with people she is supposed to know. “Do you live in Los Angeles now? she asks rapper Saweetie as they make shrimp tacos. She does. “I love LA,” Hilton replies. Sometimes Hilton laughs, but does she really laugh? It’s hard to say.