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Chef Flynn
by Karen Schollemann

“Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” the beloved animated movie, Ratatouille, has come true, but this time in the shape of a 10-year-old boy (and documentary film), called Chef Flynn. Like Remy, in the beginning of Ratatouille, Flynn McGarry begins Cameron Yates’ documentary by hunting for edible flowers, herbs and vegetables that fit together for an extraordinary, but exquisite, culinary experience.

This documentary, which is part of the Culinary Cinema, tells the true story of a boy, Flynn McGarry, who starts serious cooking at the age of 10. He claims that 10 years of childhood was enough and begins to teach himself how to cook mainly via YouTube and Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook. However, this is not just the tale of a boy’s climb to foodie fame, but also the unraveling developments of a mother-son relationship, when the mother, Meg, realizes that her son has unusual culinary talents. Being in a creative line of work, cinematography, herself, she begins making home movies of her son at an early age.

At 10, Flynn also finds cooking a way to cope with his parents’ recent divorce as well as with his difficulty in fitting in at school. All his passion, his energy goes into creative cooking. He has always shown an artistic ardor and, coupled with his desire to pep up his mom’s “pretty boring” cooking, he and his mom turn their living room into a supper club, called “Eureka” and Flynn’s bedroom into a kitchen, modeled after the kitchen in Alinea (three-star Michelin restaurant in Chicago). According to Flynn, every dish not only has to give the taste buds a thrill but must also be like a perfect painting. His ultimate goal or fondest dream from the beginning and throughout the film is to open his own restaurant in New York City when he turns 19.

By the time Flynn is 13, he has already been featured in The New Yorker “Talk of the Town” as well as become well-known among the Hollywood crowd for his supper club where he creates dishes usually consisting of 8-14 deliciously artistic courses served in his living room.

Meg supports Flynn’s never-ending appetite for conceiving new menus and they opt for home-schooling. Being more flexible, Flynn starts doing apprenticeships at such renowned restaurants as Daniel Humm's Eleven Madison Park and Alinea  in Chicago. Then Yates discovers him and begins filming. At 15, the New York Times Magazine features him as the up-and-coming teenage prodigy.

How does Flynn cope with all this fame?  He, himself, says he tries to stay focused on his work and ignore the media; in other words, he’s just cooking a dinner. When they ask Meg if she worries about Flynn working 15 hours a day, she says that it comes from him; she supports but never pushes him.

This sweet harmony between mother and son goes a bit sour when Flynn turns 16 and becomes a full-fledged teen. Flynn doesn’t always want his mom filming him and finds her somewhat annoying, when she is too “supportive.” Yates captures this change masterfully when he films Flynn and his mother as they go to New York for the debut of his NYC Pop Up. Tension builds up between the two, things go wrong and when Meg goes into the dining room to calm the guests, Flynn begs his co-workers, “Get my mother out of the dining room!”

All this leads up to the realization of Flynn’s dream---to have a restaurant of his own in New York City. The film ends with the now 19-year-old Flynn moving alone to New York City, doing a few pop ups, picking out vegetables at a market and, according to plan, about to open his very own restaurant in New York’s Lower East Side. The name will be Gem (Meg spelled backwards). Not surprisingly, it will be modeled after his super club Eureka with a Living Room, which is open all day until 5 PM for coffee and sweets. In the evening, the lucky diners can get snacks and an aperitif in the Living Room before they imbibe in the eight-course tasting menu served in the Dining Room. Some of the things he might serve include peanut Ritz Crackers with foie gras, king crab with leeks and grapefruit or his signature smoked red beets.

Loving food, I found the film deliciously entertaining but also thought-provoking and motivating. Videos of Flynn at work made my mouth water and my soul wish for more. The mother-son theme that evolved from Meg’s countless videos plus the five years of Yates’ filming were telling as well as touching. We see firsthand how a young prodigy unfolds his talents in an environment of unbridled creativity generated by his mom to become one of the most talked about cooks today. However, although Meg’s videos certainly gave us the inside view, they were at times too many, too jittery and too “homemade.” Occasionally I had to close my eyes to keep from getting dizzy. Sometimes Meg’s voice-over became too overpowering. However, Yates‘ footage successfully elucidated on the mother-son-theme and acclaimed Flynn’s natural flair for creative cooking.

Only through hard work, determination and an ability to shrug off unjust critic was Flynn able to get where he is today. This is then not just a foodie film, but also a film that aspiring young people should see---not only cooks, but also all those following their dream or passion.

By the way, Gem just opened on February 27, so if you happen to be in New York City, make sure and reserve a table.  It’s only $155.00 per person (tip included!)