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Thread: CHEF FLYNN (Cameron Yates 2018)

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    Jul 2002
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    CHEF FLYNN (Cameron Yates 2018)



    A boy prodigy in the kitchen grows up in southern California and moves to New York

    I was delighted by the subject of this little documentary and what it shows of young talent. It's inspiring and fun to see youthful genius of any kind, and Chef Flynn reinforces our sense that cooking, as well as many other things, is indeed an art. The film itself is not quite so perfect as the dishes, though, as we shall see.

    He's crisp and boyish, Flynn McGarry, cooking from toddler-hood on, a true and marvelous culinary prodigy. As he himself confirms in his narration, his dinners for friends and classmates at first are perhaps no more than unusual and complicated play dates. But one short scene shows that for a while at least he had a kitchen in his bedroom. Indeed his bedroom essentially is a kitchen, with a fold-down bed. Perhaps he has not been banished from the main kitchen: this is just where he does his creation and research. Early on there's a hint that he is cooking his way though Thomas Keller's French Laundry Cookbook, adding his own variations. By the time he's twelve at least, Flynn is staging astonishingly complex and impressive monthly tasting dinners at his parents' rangy southern California house in the San Fernando Valley. His restaurant for the purpose is called "Eureka," after the first street where he lived. The menus are beautifully printed. The name, Eureka, is embroidered on his chef's coat.

    Later, a barrage of press comes his way. Eventually, at the advanced age of fifteen, he is on the cover of a special new cooks issue of the New York Times Magazine. He's interviewed by Larry King, who asks him why he uses tweezers (to arrange delicate food particles on a plate) and if he has missed high school (no, he hasn't). The publicity, even if it awakens jealousy and online snark, is useful for achieving his declared goal, which is to run a restaurant in New York. Not LA, not San Francisco, which would be closer to where he grew up. New York, he is convinced, is the place to make one's mark in the world of cooking.

    And look at the dishes he prepares. If you know anything about fine cuisine - and running a restaurant, you can see from early on that Flynn McGarry's skills range wide. He knows about reductions and contrasting flavors, splitting up a turkey into pieces to cook because each part requires a different oven time - and a thousand other things. Where did he learn all this stuff? (Off the media, mostly.) Well, he drops out and is home schooled from grade seven. He had been spending all his time in class sketching dishes as that other, couturier prodigy, Alexander McQueen (celebrated in an earlier documentary this year), spent his school hours drawing dresses. The dishes Flynn sends out to diners, in the ethereal flesh, are beautiful and delicate compositions on the plate: clearly he is an artist of the most refined kind. His plates are something like those we saw being produced at the Michelin Three-Star Maison Bras in France, as depicted in its own 2011 documentary. Just the aesthetics place him in a class with really sophisticated chefs at famous restaurants - at thirteen or fourteen.

    But it's not just working well in the kitchen, what he does. It's the whole package. He's gifted at planning and can supervise a crew diplomatically and coolly (that word keeps coming up) and creating nine- to twelve-course tasting menus where every detail has been thought out. And, he is cool (as I said) l and unflappable. He may collapse in exhaustion when it's all over, but even in New York, when he's in charge of a whole restaurant, and on the first night everything goes wrong, and he says "This is the worst day of my whole life," he doesn't shout, he doesn't really show it.

    Being a chef is a public thing. Flynn has a team working for him in the kitchen for "Eureka" dinners from the start, and must always deal with the outside world of the press and social media from an early age. Hence it may be understandable that this film doesn't delve beyond the superficial. Surely, though, Flynn must have had some life outside his passion. We wonder what thoughts may have accompanied his long-held plans to move to New York. (Early on as a result of a ten-chef summit Flynn and his mother went to, and images of his work being shown to the attendees, Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park invites the boy to his restaurant for a one-week guest appearance, a taste of things to come. He will have numerous other short apprenticeships.) Though his mother is always filming him, she's his mom. He is often telling her to stop, and paradoxically but not really, she has less than complete access to him, and we never get a hint of his inner life or thoughts outside the box of cuisine. We don't know exactly what role the titular director Cameron Yates played, either.

    Flynn's parents flutter in the background, or at least his father does. At some point he leaves, to deal with his depression and alcoholism. Later he comes back, but later still he disappears again. Interestingly, Flynn finds through his constant reading about chefs that it is not uncommon for them to have alcoholic parents, and this may inspire them to don the toque to enter a world where they are in control. It seems likely that his near-total absorption in cooking was partly a way of avoiding the disruptions of his family life.

    Flynn's mother, Megan, is always in evidence. At least the first fourteen years seem to have been mostly filmed by her. she is a filmmaker-cum-mom. When Flynn goes out on his own at fifteen-sixteen, Megan seems to be regaining her independence, and she may have turned the camera over to the the listed director of this film, Cameron Yates. The film is narrated by Megan and Flynn, alternately. But what happened, exactly? Who's in charge? What's a "pop-up"? And what does Flynn go to do when he moves to New York? We see him at his apartment, on the subway to work, shopping at Union Square farmer's market. But that's about as far as it goes. Perhaps necessarily, the story ends up in the air. Now he's twenty. The last couple years seem to be a blank. For all Flynn McGarry's remarkable talent and achievement, there is still a lot ahead.

    Toward the end, we see Flynn addressing an audience. He describes a new world into which others like him will come. Thanks to the internet and social media, he believes the old template of men working their way up slowly through drudgery in kitchens may give way to quicker entries, like his, and also a new culture in the kitchen of, though he doesn't say it this way, less macho and harmful behavior. The kitchen of a great restaurant is stressful enough. Why make it worse with hostility and shouting? Might work.

    When there's genius, it seems to flower on its own. Flynn was attacked as being aided on his way by wealthy parents, but they seem at best merely well off, and his mom's "powerful Hollywood friends" are nonexistent. What is true and he acknowledges, is that he would never have flourished as he did had his mom, Megan, not been so non-traditional, allowing him freedom to pursue his dream until it, for a while anyway, even takes over the house, and her life.

    If this leaves you hungry, try Pete Wells' Aug. 2018 NYTimes review of the nineteen-year-old Flynn's New York restaurant, Gem. (He passes.)

    Chef Flynn, mins., 82 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2018 and showed in at least 15 other festivals with an international premiere at the Berlinale. Bought by Kino Lorber, it opened theatrically in the US 9 Nov. 2018. Screened for this review on its local opening day at Shattuck Cinemas, Berkeley 23 Nov. 2018. Metascore 63.

    FLYNN MCGARRY IN AUG. 2018 [NYTimes]
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-25-2018 at 10:06 AM.


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