Christopher Noxon
Christopher Noxon

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New Yorker Talk of the Town: Prodigy

My piece on teen chef Flynn McGarry brought national attention to a culinary wunderkind who had been serving up elaborate 10-course tasting meals in his mom’s living room.

One recent Friday afternoon in the San Fernando Valley, Flynn McGarry snuck into a neighbor’s yard. McGarry, who is thirteen, was on an urgent mission.

“Rosemary flowers,” he said. “I saw them growing there and I knew they’d be amazing in my farro dish. Unfortunately, this neighbor’s not so nice, so I had to be kind of sneaky.” The blossoms appeared the next evening, in a ring of pickled onions, crumbled pistachios, slivered carrots, and a dozen or so other ingredients.  The dish was the midpoint of a ten-course tasting menu at Eureka, the monthly pop-up restaurant that McGarry runs out of the house he shares with his mother, his sister, his grandparents, and a tubby terrier named Digby.

McGarry, who is fair-haired and slender, with tan freckles across his nose, has been cooking seriously since he was ten. According to his mom, Meg, a screenwriter, who serves as general manager and reluctant dishwasher at Eureka, Flynn’s obsession took hold soon after she and her husband divorced. “Things were lonely and weird at home,” she said. “Flynn started cooking for me.”

After working his way through “The French Laundry Cookbook,” McGarry began studying culinary videos on You-Tube and poring over food blogs, eventually replicating a six-course meal by Grant Achatz, whom he calls his “current food God” (“Except I didn’t do the turtle soup - I couldn’t get the meat”). He started homeschooling a year ago and now interns two days a week at Ray’s, a Patina Group restaurant at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He recently spent a week in the kitchen at Eleven Madison Park. Daniel Humm, the chef there, said, “Flynn’s focus, passion, and interest in cooking ares rarely found in any cook - let alone a thirteen-year-old.”

But McGarry’s main focus these days is Eureka, an unlikely hit in a city teeming with food trucks, ethnic holes-in- the-wall, and novelty restaurants. One of the seventeen customers who paid fifty dollars for McGarry’s latest meal referred to Eureka as “the pre-pube pop-up.” (The tab recently went up to a hundred dollars.)

“I’ve got to say I was a little worried walking up here,” a music-business executive named Susan Genco said. “The kid’s bike is chained up outside! But his sunchoke soup - my God.” At another table, the mother of a twelve-year-old tasted the soup, put down her spoon, and said, “I’m trying to picture my kid around a sunchoke. I just can’t do it.”

Diners grew more excited with each course. Someone said he’d heard that Kazunori Nozawa, the Japanese sushi guru, had sampled McGarry’s food and come up with a theory: because no alcohol or tobacco has ever passed his lips, his palate is “pure.”

Among the other guests, Rob Cohen, a reality-TV producer with bushy muttonchops and a Western shirt, declared McGarry “impossibly adorable.” He sat across from John Sedlar, the executive chef and owner of the restaurants Rivera and Playa. Sedlar pronounced the farro dish “formidable,” but said the real standouts were courses six and seven - sous vide salmon with pink cara cara orange, followed by short ribs with coffee celeriac puree and wild mushrooms.

“He’s an artist,” Sedlar said, scraping clean a plate from McGarry’s great- grandparents’ china. “His approach to composition and organization is very precise, very European.”

Sedlar then ducked into a back room to spy on the chef at work. McGarry’s bedroom has been stripped of all traces of boyhood - there are no video games (“boring”), sports equipment (“no interest”), or any sign of clothes or even bedding (his rollaway bed and dresser are stashed away on restaurant days). Instead, McGarry has assembled - with help from his dad, Ikea, and “a lot of debt from American Express,” his mother said - a miniature version of the kitchen setup at Grant Achatz’s Alinea, with stainless-steel-topped counters, four induction burners, and a prep station in the closet.

McGarry’s staff for the evening numbered five, including his seventeen-year-old sister, Paris, and a guy from Ray’s, but he is in charge. In the kitchen even his mom and dad call him “boss” or “chef.” McGarry is exacting. He is, by his own reckoning, “odd.” “I’m shy and weird,” he said. “But every chef I’ve met is weird, basically. We want to work long days, it’s really stressful, it’s hot, you get cut, it’s brutal. But we love it. We live for it.”

When the last course had been cleared and his mother began loading the dishwasher, McGarry took off his chef’s coat and opened a package of green apple gummy rolls. Then he headed out with a friend to grab a late-night burger. “I’m starving,” he said.

New Yorker, April 23, 2012