Flynn McGarry: You're Never Too Young To Follow Your Passion
When I was ten years old I had little or no interest in cooking. All I knew about food was how to eat it and what I liked. That changed after I saw 'The Odd Couple' which was the film adaptation of Neil Simon's popular Broadway Play. Being a reasonably neat person, I could somehow relate to the character of Felix Unger played by Jack Lemmon. His cooking also caught my eye and I was instantly hooked.
With my parent's blessing, I began to experiment with simple dishes like scrambled eggs mixed with ham and potatoes. I got the idea from eating at a Howard Johnson's restaurant which served something called a Ham Scramble (a mixture of scrambled eggs and small pieces of Virginia ham). I later moved on to cooking meat, meat loaf, various hot dishes, and I baked my first apple pie from scratch before I was twelve years old.
I used to think that my early cooking experiences were the cat's meow until I heard about thirteen year old Flynn McGarry. He started to cook at the age of ten just like I did, but his culinary talent far exceeded mine then and now. He started messing around in the kitchen after school, but things really changed for him when he began to read about the cooking styles of Grant Achatz and Thomas Keller. He got his hands on their cook books and that was that.
McGarry read Alinea, a cook book by Grant Achatz that featured one hundred recipes from his wildly popular Chicago restaurant of the same name. He also read The French Laundry by Thomas Keller which features recipes from his Napa Valley eatery. While both chefs have distinctly different cooking styles, the young boy learned and adapted what he could from these culinary wizards and came up with a style all his own.
Flynn already had a creative streak when he first began cooking. He liked to draw, but somehow art did not challenge him as much as cooking did. In his own words, "I was creative and did art. With food, I can be creative with how I use ingredients. A certain level of detail appeals to me; in cooking, I feel that the dish needs to be as close to perfection as possible. If it's not really good, I won't serve it."
Inspired by the uninspired cooking of his mom, McGarry recently told an MSNBC News reporter, "My mom doesn't really enjoy cooking that much, she also doesn't enjoy cleaning after... One day I was like, I'm gonna cook something... I was ten... I was watching cooking shows and reading cook books... For two months I was really into the whole Food Network thing, but then the turning point was when I got The French Laundry cook book... I probably read through that thing ten times."
Flynn says that his mom "always cooked the same three things..." for as long as he could remember. After tiring of his mom's limited cuisine, he asked her if he could give the stove a try. She agreed and as he puts it, "That turned into this." What THIS is boggles the mind. He is now being home-schooled while serving two apprenticeships at local restaurants. Flynn cooks three days a week at Ray's and Stark Bar, an up scale eatery next to the L.A. County Museum of Art, and once a week at Sweet Butter, a local cafe with a less formal kitchen.
McGarry's cooking style has been called 'Progressive American' and is based on molecular gastronomy. It's a style of cooking featured in the Grant Achatz book Alinea, which helped to inspire Flynn to go in that direction in the first place. In turn, McGarry has inspired others with his food and passion for cooking. A visit to his home in San Fernando, California, explains why. He has turned his bedroom into an experimental kitchen. He sleeps there, but his bed is propped up against a wall so that it's out of the way when he isn't using it.
Once a month the McGarry home becomes Eureka, a pop up restaurant which features Flynn's latest culinary creations. With the assistance of some friends who serve his food and a few other chefs that help him to prepare it, about twenty guests relish the opportunity to sample a tasting menu of about eight to twelve courses. People can't get enough of his food and that is evidenced by the fact that Flynn is in demand all over town.
Whenever he cooks at Playa, Beverly Boulevard or other swanky west coast restaurants, no reservations are necessary because none are available. Those events always sell out. On top of all the cooking and culinary experimentation he does, McGarry is trying to finish the eighth grade. He is extremely well organized and keeps an academic planner to be sure he is balancing his passion for cooking with the need to keep up on his school work.
Flynn's passion has become a family affair. His sister, Paris, has a blog about her well-known brother. It features pictures of his latest creations and announcements about upcoming events he is involved with. His mom has created a mini-cookbook called 'Flynn's Mini Cookbook' which is based on recipes from his pop-up, in-home restaurant. The book is available on Flynn McGarry's web site.
The money earned from fund raising events like the serving at Playa will go towards the price of a plane ticket and lodging in Chicago. Flynn has been invited to stage at Grant Achatz's culinary project in the windy city. McGarry reminds us that, in most cases, you are never too young to follow a passion fueled by creativity and a desire to rise above whatever obstacles may stand in your way. In his case the only obstacle was and remains his age, and that hasn't stopped him from pursuing his dreams.
Update: At 19 Flynn has opened his own restaurant in New York City. It's called GEM
Paris McGarry's Blog about Flynn