I’ve found that documentaries about child prodigies were always a little too inspirational and often placed these kids on an incredibly high pedestal, deserved or not. Also, the act of criticizing one of these kids, and the documentary for that matter, is perceived as an act of child shaming, which I’m in danger of doing right now.
What I like about Cameron Yates’ documentary Chef Flynn is that he takes an honest look at child food prodigy Flynn McGarry, warts and all. At ten-years-old, McGarry burst onto the culinary scene cooking fabulous pre-fixe meals for family, friends, and friends of friends from his Los Angeles home. We’re talking high-end restaurant courses.
“…an honest look at child food prodigy Flynn McGarry, warts and all.”
Chef Flynn follows McGarry at age 17 as he attempts to open his first New York Restaurant via several test pop-up restaurants throughout the city. The fascinating part of the documentary is not so much the cooking, but the footage of Flynn navigating through the treacherous swamp of public life and social media. Much of Flynn’s footage comes from his artist mother Meg, who was obsessed with filming everything her children did. Clearly, Flynn was super annoyed by his mother intrusion and still is.
I don’t want to recount the entire documentary, but suffice it to say, Flynn McGarry is not your typical prodigy. He began his obsession with cooking when his parents separated due to his father’s bout with drugs and alcohol. As the oldest child, he took on the role of the family chef when he finally got fed up with his mother’s lack of cooking skills.
Flynn did more than just cook recipes. He studied the culinary arts. We’re shown recipes that interested him and the notes he wrote to make them better. Flynn, at age ten, became so laser-focused on cooking that he quit school in order to hone his craft. He also became somewhat socially awkward and reclusive. During his early teens, you see how his need for culinary perfection affected him emotionally.
“…not so much the cooking, but…Flynn navigating through the treacherous swamp of public life and social media…”
Finally, at age 17, he’s become a celebrity and an adult just a little too soon. Flynn is revealed as remarkably mature for someone unable to vote or taste the wine at his restaurants. He keeps a healthy perspective with internet attacks and maintains his composure during his first New York open, which was an utter failure when he is unable to deliver food on time.
The most intriguing aspect of Chef Flynn is its honesty. I mentioned at the start that films featuring children placed in the adult arena of life work hard to show the good at the expense of the bad. Chef Flynn doesn’t hold back. Yates’ includes a great deal of footage showing McGarry’s inner turmoil and without saying it, questions whether Flynn’s childhood could be classified as healthy.
Chef Flynn is a remarkable story of Flynn McGarry. I don’t know that I would want my child to follow in Flynn’s footsteps and experience his experiences. But at the end, you can’t help but admire the man McGarry becomes and feel a little sad for the road he had to walk along the way.
Chef Flynn (2018) Directed by Cameron Yates. Featuring Flynn McGarry.
3.5 out 5 stars