PHOTO BY JOEL BARHAMAND
While his classmates were playing sports and studying for tests, Flynn McGarry was obsessing over food. “I loved the artistry,” he says. “I loved the attention to detail.” In 2010, at the ripe age of 11, he launched Eureka, a supper club in his family’s Los Angeles living room. That led to apprenticeships at Oslo’s Maaemo and New York’s Eleven Madison Park, and in 2015 he moved to NYC and opened a series of buzzed-about pop-ups. “I think of New York as the fine-dining restaurant of cities,” says McGarry, who turns 20 at the end of this month. “It’s so demanding, exhausting, and intense. I’m attracted to environments like that.” In February, he opened the 12-seat Lower East Side restaurant Gem, where he serves a tasting menu of delicately plated dishes such as grilled king crab legs with rose-petal miso and an aged beet with greens and Bordelaise sauce.
Gem just scored a glowing review in The New York Times. “I think that really legitimized the restaurant,” McGarry says. “It let people know that this place isn’t just a flash in the pan.” This month sees the national release of the documentary Chef Flynn, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January. The film spans six years of his culinary journey, from Eureka to the challenges of his first New York pop-up (“too many people and too much expectation”) to the development of Gem. The movie offers McGarry a chance to tell his side of the story to an industry that has criticized him for his nontraditional career path. “I’ve been working in kitchens for seven years,” he says. “I know I’ve put in the work.”
For the moment, McGarry remains focused on Gem. “The restaurant has probably changed 100 times, and I wanted it to be a place where it could morph as we morph,” he says. “If we peak right now, that would be awful.” However, the precocious chef does have a non-culinary dream venture: “A hotel! I’m interested in design and hospitality—elements that aren’t food.” Another slightly more self-indulgent project on his list? “I want to open a classic Italian bar,” he says, inspired by a summer spent in Italy. At the very least, it would serve a practical purpose: “I could have my 21st birthday there!”