“I’m like a player in this film about my strange son who figured out his life so early.” So says Meg McGarry, mother of Flynn McGarry, a.k.a. the Teen Chef. A new film, “Chef Flynn,” details his rise from home-style supper club chef who plates his food with tweezers at age twelve to media sensation by the time he was fifteen. He’s the kind of youngster a word like ‘wunderkind’ was coined to describe.
Flynn’s well-documented life in and out of the kitchen comes courtesy of Meg, a filmmaker and artist who supplied hours of cinéma vérité footage taken at home. “Hi,” says a twelve year old Flynn., “Welcome to my kitchen slash bedroom slash workspace.” She describes how he began cooking for her after a divorce that left her depressed and uninterested in food. To help out he tooled around the kitchen and found his passion. “I have an incredible obsession with beets ,” he says. At an age when most kids are ordering chicken fingers off the happy menu he has a “signature dish” of sous vide short ribs with a shitake mushroom polenta with a blackberry reduction.
A shift or two at a tony restaurant reinforces his love of food and natural talent but it is a piece in the New Yorker when he was thirteen that changed things. The home supper club started charging—up to $160 a head—and strangers requested photos of the wunderkind (there’s that word again) in his bedroom kitchen.
With sudden success come the sharp knives, people who suggest he’s missed out on his childhood—“I had ten years of childhood,” he says. “I think that’s enough.”—while social media wonders whether or not he bought his kitchen career. Does he really deserve to be called ‘chef’? One writer details the “Controversy of Chef Flynn,” another nicknames him Chef Doogie Howser and a reporter asks if this is all just a gimmick. “Everyone else is calling me chef,” he says. “I cook food. I don’t know why it’s such a big deal. It’s just a single word.”
It’s hard not to see privilege at work—the bedroom kitchen and elaborate dinners must have cost some bank—but there is no denying his talent. “None of the press I’ve asked for. The press kind of happened and from there opportunities arise.”
Ultimately “Chef Flynn” is like a Food Network version of “Boyhood.” We see Flynn grow up on camera, from reluctant subject—“Turn the camera off. I can’t find my chef coat.”—to a NYC pop up chef obsessed with perfection. His mother Meg features heavily, perhaps too much so. The helicopter mom comments throughout, often putting words into the prodigy’s mouth.
We’re told having an alcoholic father led Flynn to find some control in his life. The kitchen offered that. However, we find that through Meg, not Flynn, who says relatively little about his rise to fame. Because of that “Chef Flynn” often feels like a meal where the waiter forgot to bring the main course.