By the time Flynn McGarry was 10, he knew he wanted to be a chef. By 12, he was hosting a French Laundry-inspired supper club in his Studio City, California home. When he was 15, he made the cover of the New York Times Magazine for his pop-up dinners in New York, L.A., and San Francisco. Fame and fans came fast, as did his critics, but McGarry soldiered on. Without the distraction of high school, McGarry kept his goal singular: be the best chef he could. He relocated to New York City’s Lower East Side, and in 2018 McGarry opened Gem, a 12 to 15-course dinner restaurant that serves two seatings of 12 guests, five times a week. Chef Flynn has arrived.
Most of this figures in Chef Flynn, the documentary by Cameron Yates. With an aspiring filmmaker for a mother (Meg McGarry), the young McGarry’s life is captured in exhaustive detail. Many of the shots either open or close with McGarry asking his mom to put the camera down. How much footage Yates inherited from Mother McGarry isn’t entirely clear, but there is a sense that she should share a directing or writing credit for the doc.
Yet, while the footage of McGarry is extensive, there are still many questions left on the table. It’s obvious where McGarry learned to cook—through constant trial and error—but where did he learn to eat? To taste? How did he know these flavors would work? Intuition? Research? Science?
What is it like for his sous to work with him? Do they trust him? Do they despise him? As a tween, McGarry relies heavily on help from his friends for his home supper club. Were these kids also fascinated by food, or did they think they were playing house?
And what does the food taste like? These small portions on big white plates certainly do look stunning, but only in one pop-up dinner do we see a woman close her eyes in ecstasy when she takes a bite. Are all of McGarry’s dishes this good? If they are, why doesn’t Yates feature them more prominently?
McGarry is a fascinating subject, but Chef Flynn is too fascinated with him to paint a proper portrait. Then again, Flynn is only 19, and there are still decades of this story to be told. That makes Chef Flynn the starter course. Here’s hoping the main dish will be somewhat more substantial.
Chef Flynn is currently in limited release.