While many teens are looking for summer love, Flynn McGarry is searching for perfect truffles and sockeye salmon for his pop-up restaurant.
Flynn, 14, has cooked with Daniel Boulud on NBC’s “Today” show. He’s worked in the kitchens of chefs Grant Achatz of Chicago’s Alinea and Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park in New York.
Flynn exudes the confidence of a kitchen veteran.
“A cook’s brain involves just doing everything the way someone tells them to,” the lanky wunderkind said during a conversation at the Aroma Cafe near his Studio City, Calif., home. “A chef’s brain is about thinking ‘How will I do it?’ and ‘How would I do it better?’ Whether I see a recipe on the Internet or in a cookbook, I learn it once, and it’s implanted on my brain.”
His first venture, when he was 11, was a supper club in his mother’s home. Now he showcases his craft at Eureka, a $160-per-person pop-up hosted regularly at BierBeisl, an Austrian restaurant in Beverly Hills.
Movie producer and talent agent Dan Halsted, a repeat customer, still gushes about Flynn’s foraged wild mushrooms served on a charred log.
“His food is as good as Eleven Madison Park’s, and I’ve eaten at Momofuku, and it’s as good as that,” Halsted said by phone. “He’s young, but he’s so knowledgeable. It’s like saying Mozart was only a kid when he created the Requiem Mass in D minor.”
Humm saw “poise, dedication and passion” in the precocious chef, to whom he taught some of his cooking and plating techniques. “He has a foundation that is generally not established until reaching the professional level,” Humm said in an email.
Flynn started cooking at 10 because, he said, he “didn’t really like” his mom’s food. He found his calling after buying master chef Thomas Keller’s “The French Laundry Cookbook.” Flynn began emulating daring recipes inspired by his heroes including Ferran Adria, Humm and Achatz. His parents converted his bedroom into a test kitchen, complete with induction burners. “It may seem dangerous moving gas burners into your bedroom, but I could just shut the door and create,” he said.
That’s also when he transferred from public school to Laurel Springs, an online college preparatory program.
In 2010, he began serving meals at his mother’s home. Wordspread quickly that a teen chef was kicking out restaurant-quality food, and he found himself cooking 14-course tasting menus for as many as 28. Guests paid up to $160 each for their meals.
“It became too crazy,” he said. “We didn’t have a commercial dishwasher. When is the day coming when the health department is going to crack down on us? It was way too much for me to handle at age 13.”
Bernhard Mairinger, chef-owner of BierBeisl, learned from a friend that Flynn needed a professional kitchen and dining space and offered him his restaurant on Wednesdays, when BierBeisl is closed. Flynn oversees staff from BierBeisl’s kitchen.
Flynn has a master plan for his future. It’s a waste of time, he says, to spend $60,000 to attend the Culinary Institute of America. He would instead spend that money traveling around the world to work in the best kitchens and run a world-class place of his own.