Flynn McGarry, Chef
At the age of 18, prodigy chef Flynn McGarry has already achieved what most chefs don’t in a lifetime.
Retired By 30? Maybe, But Probably Not.
We sat down with Flynn to talk about everything from picking up his first cookbook to firing his friends.
Do you remember the first thing you cooked that made you realize this was it for you?
I have no recollection of the first thing, but I do remember I didn’t really start by making whole dishes, because I read the entire cookbook and wanted to go technique-by-technique. It was funny because at first my parents were like, “Great, you’re gonna cook dinner now!” and my response was, “No no no, I’m just going to make chicken stock for three days to figure out how to make it.”
Was there a cookbook you loved when you first started learning about cooking?
Yes. My mom took me to a Barnes & Noble and I picked up The French Laundry Cookbook. I wanted it because it was on the top shelf, wrapped in plastic, and really expensive. I said, “I want that one,” without having a clue what it actually was, but it made me obsessed with fine dining and an elevated level of cooking.
You started hosting dinner parties in your home. Where did that idea come from?
It wasn’t an idea, it just happened. There were 30 people in our dining room eating 15 courses and it got too big for our house, so we decided to move into restaurants—that’s when I think I knew this was what I was going to be doing for a while. It started because I wanted to use the techniques I had learned. I would work five nights a week in a restaurant, learn great new things, and really wanted a way to be creative instead of following orders all day.
Were your friends involved at all in your cooking?
At first I did have them come over because I thought they’d enjoy it, but then I quickly decided they had no idea what they were doing. What really put me over the edge was this one time I asked someone to go get me an onion and they brought me back a potato. I had to fire my friends—which was fun.
You started a YouTube channel where other chefs started getting involved and reaching out to you. Who was the first chef that approached you?
It was more that I went and told them I wanted to work with them. Probably the first big-name chef was Daniel Humm, who owns Eleven Madison Park in New York. I went to his cookbook signing and I guess no one really cared about a three Michelin Star restaurant, because I was the only person there. I went up to talk to him and he invited me to come work at the restaurant. Once you work in one restaurant like that, you meet people who work in the industry and start to work all around.
Could you describe your cooking style? What’s a signature dish of yours?
I always describe my cooking style very vaguely—it’s vegetable-focused new American, because that just lets me do whatever I want. If I say I cook French food, then I have to cook French food, so I say “New American,” which is the definition of a bullshit term and allows me to have free reign. I don’t have any signature dishes, but the one dish that has stayed on the menu the longest is a beet that is braised, smoked, grilled, dehydrated, and then rehydrated six times to have the texture of something like a steak. I also make a very traditional steak sauce that’s a bordelaise made only out of beets. It’s using the whole beet, but if you close your eyes, it tastes like you’re eating a steak.
Have you felt disadvantaged in the sense that you’re so young?
It’s very polarizing. I’m a very polarizing person within the industry, but that’s the sacrifice you make when you try to do something kind of crazy and different—some people are going to hate it. I’m not surprised when older people in the industry don’t respond to it, because being such a young chef is a very new concept that might, depending on your perspective, be very unappealing to chefs that have spent their whole lives doing this.
By the time that you hit 30 what do you see yourself accomplishing?
By the time I hit 30? I would like to be retired. I would like to be on a beach somewhere relaxing. In all seriousness, I want to have a few restaurants and do that whole thing. By the time I turn 30, I will have been cooking for 20 years, and 20 years working in a kitchen is a lot. I really have absolutely no clue what will happen—I might not even be cooking. I couldn’t tell you what’s going to happen next week. It’s an ever-changing world.