One day, I’d love to eat a 14-course meal prepared by Flynn McGarry. His passion for food is obvious. His passion for life itself — not so obvious.
As portrayed by documentarian Cameron Yates in “Chef Flynn,” McGarry — a teenage phenom who began a pop-up restaurant out of his parents’ Southern California home at age 11, was profiled by the New Yorker when he was 13 and is a rising star known as the Justin Bieber of chefs — seems to have no life other than food.
His success and his approach are fascinating, but I came away from the film really knowing nothing about him. He seems to have no broader interest in anything but himself and his food creations.
McGarry’s story is told from ages 11 to 17 (he’s now 19), mostly from the point of view of his mother, Meg McGarry, a frustrated filmmaker who became his “stage mother,” encouraging his ambition by home schooling him and becoming his manager and head cheerleader.
She has unconditional love for her son, who often during the film seems unappreciative. “Get my mom out of the kitchen!” he barks during a tense night at a pop-up.
He doesn’t seem like a bad kid. But like any teenager who is still growing, Flynn is gaining life experience. He does show an admirable and mature resilience to a social media backlash by haters who think he is too young for such accolades.
A follow-up documentary, say when he’s 30 or 35, might be about a more interesting person.
But as for the food — wow. Creations involving short ribs, salmon, beets and many other ingredients look mouthwatering. He does pop-ups not only in Southern California but New York, San Francisco and elsewhere.
Yates’ roving camera is also impressive, shining especially during those pop-up restaurant nights, where a 14-course meal can go for $160. His camera deftly moves through cramped kitchens and the tiny aisles between customers’ tables.
Still, “Chef Flynn” seems more suited for an hourlong show on the Food Network. Its 82-minute running time, although short for a feature film, seems bloated for this story.
The most interesting character, and worthy of a documentary of her own, is Meg McGarry. Included in “Chef Flynn” are clips of her black-and-white indie short films from the 1980s, which show that she had some talent. Her home videos of Flynn growing up are vital to Yates’ film.
One also admires this strong woman who, after divorcing Flynn’s alcoholic father, was able not only to raise her son and daughter on her own, but fuel Flynn’s ambitions as well. She comes across as a very remarkable person.