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Paris Hilton’s new Netflix show takes all the joy out of cooking

Paris Hilton in "Cooking With Paris." (Kit Karzen/Netflix)

“Cooking With Paris,” the new Netflix show starring proto-reality TV personality Paris Hilton, arrived exactly at the moment in the coronavirus pandemic when I badly needed a jolt of kitchen inspiration — or at least a few hours of blissfully transporting entertainment.

I had reason to hope for both. I enjoyed the YouTube video last year that spawned the show. In that 16-minute episode, Paris’s anarchical approach in the kitchen and her supreme self-confidence were genuinely inspiring.

But “Cooking With Paris” simply didn’t bring me the same joy. Mostly because it gets everything wrong about cooking.

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In Paris’s world — and the show firmly places us on Planet Paris, a unicorn-littered landscape where everything is sparkly and/or pink and often bears a designer label — cooking is tedious. The show’s concept is hardly groundbreaking: Each episode features Paris concocting a theme and then inviting a friend over to cook a meal to match. The twist is that her motifs are so far over-the-top they require a team of party planners and staff, and her guests are famous and fabulous.

This setup just screams (or in Paris-speak, coos in the manner of a particularly jaded baby) “FUN!” But for all the glitter she tosses around, and despite her cheery cookbook that’s done up in rainbow-hued hand-lettering and her repeated insistence that she “loves” cooking, Paris never looks like she actually enjoys her interactions with foodstuffs. “This is literally like a workout,” she says as she peels a potato in an effort to replicate McDonalds’ fries, seeming as if she wants to drop the peeler in exhaustion. She’s looks like she’s about to retch as she hoists a raw turkey from the sink where she was washing it. “Ew,” she sighs, turning her head. “I can’t even look at you.”

She’s almost always wearing “sliving gloves” — lacy or bejeweled fingerless numbers she’s named after a catchphrase that seems to combine “slaying” with “living your best life” — that constantly get smeared with whatever she’s making. She seems annoyed by this, though she claims to the camera that they make cooking “more fun.”

In Planet Paris, the practice of producing a meal is littered with the complicated and incomprehensible. “What are chives and what do you do with them?” she asks a grocery store employee in the “watch Paris shop!” segment of each show. Her repeated insistence that she doesn’t know the words for basic kitchen tools — tongs, whisks — comes across as grating, not charming.

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“Why is it turning brown?” she asks of her pal, reality star Kim Kardashian, who is one of the guests who suffer alongside Paris, about a piece of cereal-encrusted French toast in a pan. “It’s cooking,” answers Kardashian, who comes across like Julia Child in comparison to her host.

Paris isn’t dumb, even though the persona she has long projected is just that. In the 2020 documentary “This Is Paris,” which complicated our understanding of the hotel-heiress-turned-celebrity, she admitted as much. “I’ve been judged based on a character that I created in the beginning of my career,” she said. “And now I feel like it’s finally time that people see who the real Paris is.”

And so this is where the show risks really turning viewers off — possibly to Paris herself, but hopefully not to the idea that putting together meals for friends is rich with opportunities to learn about new ingredients or techniques, or even cultures. Presented with her own ignorance, the Paris of “Cooking With Paris” is unconcerned, incurious, and insistent on staying that way.

There are times when this attitude crosses over from mere annoyance to something more problematic. When she hosts rapper Saweetie for taco night, Paris’s unwillingness to correct her pronunciation of Mexican ingredients seems particularly unpleasant. Cotija cheese is “corrita,” she decides. “What is a to-mah-tilly-oh?” she asks with a whine, but doesn’t seem particularly interested in the answer.

Another of her tropes, that she’s brushing up on her culinary chops in preparation for family life, also bothers me. For one, it seems like this is a tidbit about her personal life dangled out there to stoke gossip ahead of her show (if Paris’s PR skills were culinary ones, she would rival Jacques Pepin). The gambit worked, and headlines have documented her family plans, including a pregnancy rumor that she batted down, ensuring another full cycle of coverage.

But it also underscores the idea that cooking is reserved for moms, that the only reason one might want to make a delicious meal is to serve it to one’s offspring. I get that parents need to be able to fill the constantly gaping maws of their children, and they probably shouldn’t do it the way Paris feeds herself (in one episode, she snacks on spoonfuls of caviar). Still, cooking is for everyone, right?

Paris isn’t selling anyone on the idea that time spent in the kitchen is pleasurable, or even that anyone can make something delicious. She is, however, hawking something. There’s usually a bottle of Zenwtr, the brand in which she is reportedly an investor, hanging around the kitchen.

Maybe this is all okay because “Cooking With Paris” is really not a cooking show. In some ways, it’s actually a sendup of the genre, a meta joke that the host is definitely in on.

Paris, who has always had an uncanny understanding of the dynamics between viewers and the viewed, gets it. She knows that most people aren’t watching, say, the Barefoot Contessa to actually learn how to roast a chicken. Those who really want to know can read a recipe for that. Instead, they tune in because they like the host and they like the vibe. Paris simply swaps Ina Garten and her Hamptons-farmhouse fantasy for her own Barbie Dreamhouse one.

And the show is part of a trend where cooking newbie-celebrities seek out kitchen tutelage. Actress Selena Gomez, rapper Snoop Dogg, and comedian Amy Schumer have all debuted shows that employ this shtick, and Paris does have a nose for the zeitgeist.

It is, at least, refreshing to see that in “Cooking With Paris,” the star, whose career started with a leaked sex tape, finally has agency.

The Netflix show employs the same fish-out-of-water dynamic of “The Simple Life,” the reality show she starred in with Nicole Richie that seared her rich-girl ditziness into our collective psyche almost two decades ago. But Paris is unquestionably in control here. She’s an executive producer. She’s in charge of the menus and the guest lists. That’s her “chief of staff” and her Swarovski-studded spatula.

Which makes me wonder, if Paris can do what Paris wants, why drag cooking into the mix at all? She could just invite her famous friends over to talk. Maybe over takeout? Or caviar straight from the jar.

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