Selena Gomez is inviting fans into her kitchen as part of her delightful at-home cooking series, Selena + Chef. Virtually joining her each episode is a world-renowned chef who helps her master a new cuisine and learn new tips and tricks about home cooking as they make the most of their time during quarantine.
One of those chefs is former Top Chef contestant, food TV staple and owner of several Los Angeles restaurants Antonia Lofaso, who teaches Gomez how to make seafood tostada, consisting of a mixture of calamari, octopus and shrimp, in one of the series’ funniest episodes.
Making the dish requires Gomez to handle a raw octopus, which leads to some groans from the amateur chef and laughs from her best friends, Liz and Raquelle, who are quarantined with her. “Oh my gosh,” the singer is heard saying before gagging as she cuts the legs off.
“The gagging is my favorite part of this,” Lofaso responds.
While speaking with ET, the chef explains that she chose this recipe because she wanted to feature a dish that looks simple when it’s completed, but actually requires quite a few steps to execute. And when it came to the octopus, “I thought that would be fun because it’s not really an ingredient that everyone always gets to see in its entirety,” Lofaso says.
“There are techniques where people can be like, ‘To make an omelet is very difficult or to make ramen is very difficult,’” she continues. “But I was like, ‘Let’s give her a difficult protein to work with. Let’s give her something that is going to be fun to talk about. It’s going to be fun to shoot.’”
Not only does Gomez manage to chop the octopus down to size, but she boils it in a plastic bag in a pot of water. However, that leads to the first major scare of the episode -- when the pot starts to overflow, there are screams and Liz calls for a fire extinguisher.
Luckily, one is not needed.
“All I kept envisioning was that she didn't put enough water in the octopus pot. And at some point the plastic was going to be burning the bottom of the pot and start this huge fire,” Lofaso recalls, while remembering another scary moment when Gomez was chopping radishes with one of her rainbow-colored knives.
“It scared me when I saw her cut that radish. I mean, that was a very genuine reaction,” she says of instant freakout when she watched Gomez saber the vegetable versus chopping it vertically.
Ultimately, there were no chopped fingers. “I was very happy that she was fine,” the chef adds.
While promoting Selena + Chef during HBO Max’s virtual press tour, the singer told ET and other reporters that this recipe proved to be the most challenging for her. “I really, really didn’t like that it was a whole process,” she said of having to work with the octopus. “That I’m okay never doing again in my life.”
She did, however, add that “it was delicious. So I will say that.”
As part of each episode, Gomez makes a $10,000 donation to the charity of the featured chef’s choice. In Lofaso’s case, it was Beit T’Shuvah, a residential addiction treatment center in Los Angeles that’s important to her, as she’s known family members and loved ones who have suffered from substance abuse.
After Lofaso opens up to her about the charity, Gomez responds in kind. “I also have bipolar, so I deal with a lot of mental health issues, and some of my family members are also addicts, so it's something I'm extremely passionate about as well,” she says on camera. “I think that there is a lot of shame and guilt in it and then there's also this pressure of, you know, wanting to feel like you're a part of the crowd if you do this and do that. So I'm very grateful I now know that that's something that you do, and people can check it out.”
“What she talked about, what I talked about, is really [something] not many people are sharing about,” Lofaso tells ET. “The only way people in those realms of mental illness and with drug abuse survive is with transparency. So I think that for her and I to have that sort of very real transparent moment felt very true and very organic. And I really loved it.”
For the chef, that’s what ultimately sets this apart from other celebrity at-home cooking series: “It’s so organic and real, which I really appreciated,” she says, adding, “It was a real pleasure for me that day because I almost forgot what was going on, you know what I mean? And it felt like I was just, like, hanging out for a couple of hours in my kitchen.”
The first three episodes of Selena + Chef are now streaming on HBO Max.