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It’s a little disconcerting to watch a kid wielding a cleaver. But the kid in Cameron Yates’ Chef Flynn is a bit ahead of his time. Consider this: 15-year-old cooking prodigy Flynn McGarry has already appeared, bedecked in his chef’s coat, on the cover of The New York Times’ Sunday magazine. How many other teenagers can say that? How many other teenagers can even boil water?
Flynn does that and much, much more in his California “kitchen”—which is actually his bedroom, but tricked out with all the accouterments a chef might need so he can experiment in peace. That last part is important, for a reason that is immediately clear at the start of the doc: Flynn’s mother, Meg, is a filmmaker, and she seemingly always has a camera in his face while commenting or asking questions to tease out a narrative. “Mom, NO,” is Flynn’s frequent response, even though he must be relatively used to this. His father is no longer around, but he’s a photographer, and Flynn says that while growing up, “Everything was being documented in one way or another.”
Meg is as large a presence in the film as Flynn is, helping not only to record every moment of his nascent career but trying to manage it as well; call her a kitchen mother. She does everything from taking care of the books for the teen’s intimate supper club, Eureka, to doing damage control on the disastrous opening night of his New York pop-up to straightening the ties of his apron (oh mom!).
And, of course, she’s the wallet, a detail that isn’t explicit here and that you don’t really think about until a trolling Twitter user ties Flynn’s “privilege” to his opportunities. “People think I bought my way into this,” Flynn says, and it’s not an unreasonable thought. That bedroom kitchen can’t have been cheap, and they didn’t always charge for the supper club Flynn started when he was 11, offering fancy, multicourse meals to a houseful of friends and family gratis. To compare: They eventually impose a price tag per person of $160, and they still barely come out ahead.
So, yeah, privilege has a little something to do with the exposure Flynn received that let him guest-chef in fine restaurants and make the necessary connections to keep going forward instead of being, well, a flash in the pan. Flynn commanding his home kitchen seems like no big deal—though it’s a tad precious when the footage is of him as a freckle-faced tyke—but watching him shout, “I need, like, a thousand fucking hands!” in a buzzing restaurant kitchen does make the matchup feel a little ridiculous. But the proof is—sorry!—in the pudding: Flynn’s dishes are elegantly composed and bursting with creativity, and the audience reactions (at least those we’re privy to) are typically rapturous. The kid’s got something, and that can’t be bought.
Throughout the otherwise delicious film, though, you get the impression that, besides the pop-up gone awry, Yates is showing only the McGarrys’ flattering sides. Meg is a pill, make no mistake, and Flynn protests often, but how likely is it that his resistance stops at his first sing-song “no?” This is an unusual mother-son relationship, to be sure, but they’re both still human beings who seem to be constantly up in each other’s face.
On top of the culinary side of things, Flynn is home-schooled, having shut out his high school classes in favor of daydreaming about dishes. Meg refers to him as “my strange son, who figured out his life so early.” And people repeatedly ask him whether he feels that he missed out on just being a kid. “I had 10 years of childhood,” Flynn says. “I think that that’s enough.”
Chef Flynn opens Friday at Landmark E Street Cinema.