I’m guessing that a number of you who follow cooking culture and prominent chefs may have caught wind of young Flynn McGarry, a so-called child prodigy from Los Angeles who took an interest in serious culinary preparation when he was around 10 years old. Before long the house he shared with his single mother Meg (an experimental filmmaker) and older sister began hosting regular restaurant days featuring not only dishes prepared but created by Flynn. He not only taught himself to cook, but using books and the internet, he studied the ways different renowned chefs run their kitchens, making the youngster not only a well-versed cook but also a professional in the kitchen.
Filmmaker Cameron Yates (The Canal Street Madam) uses a combination of home movies (mostly courtesy of Meg) and newer footage to piece together a story of a somewhat isolated kid who had no real interest in traditional schooling. Once he convinced his mother to home school him, his fate was essentially sealed, since he spent every waking moment (when he wasn’t studying) learning the ways of better eating. And to watch him at 12 or 13 years old maneuver in a kitchen setting is remarkable and impressive.
As his profile grew and various national media outlets began paying attention to him, critics of his self-starter methods begin to troll him on the internet, leading to some fairly uncomfortable and high-stress moments. Even tougher are the misconceptions that he grew up rich, privileged and connected, none of which are true. In fact, as his profile grows, the home restaurant was almost losing money every time they did a tasting because of the price of the ingredients. He does make connections through his reputation—not through family—and he gets the chance to shadow a New York chef and even prepare portions of a dinner, all the time learning new methods and ways to organize a professional kitchen.
All of this fuels his ultimate dream to pull financing together to open up his own place in New York City, and his first attempts at a pop-up restaurant called Eureka (also the name of his establishment in the family home) are both disastrous and educational. And it’s in these moments where we remember that Flynn is very much still emotionally developing (he’s 15-16 years old in most of the newly filmed footage). We watch him stress out, lose his temper with his staff, and feel the need to micromanage every aspect of the meal, rather than trust those around him to do their jobs. But with each new day, the process gets easier and he figures it out, learns and grows from his failures. He even learns to let the online trolls have their say without impacting him.
His media profile goes through the roof, so on top of actual work-related concerns, he has to worry about being perceived as a gimmick. But he still finds time to apprentice at Next and Alinea. It’s impossible to watch the film and not be impressed by his gastronomy skills, even if his personality and perfectly quaffed hair might rub you the wrong way. Although not covered in the film, McGarry is now 19 and opened his own restaurant earlier this year, called Gem, on the Lower East Side, and much like his pop-ups, the food is getting high marks while the service is still finding its flow. Somewhere in that sentence is a metaphor for being a teenager, I’m almost certain of it.
The film opens today exclusively for a weeklong run at the Gene Siskel Film Center.