CHEF FLYNN - When given the tools to succeed
Cameron Yate’s portrait of rising (largely self-taught) culinary star Flynn McGarry, is more than mere chronology. It is a portrait of a mother (Meg) and son (Flynn), wherein both are also people and not just those roles. Yates confronts all the aspects of “controversy” that swarm around this prodigious youth (although he is now age 20 with a NYC brick and mortar restaurant called GEM) while telling the more intimate narrative of Flynn’s life between ages 10 and 17. CF is told from such a close point of view, consisting largely of footage shot by Flynn’s own Artist mother, it seems as though the film were co-directed, or rather about her co-direction. I felt this way too about the recent M.I.A documentary Matangi/Maya/MIA, which issued almost all its visual material from things Maya Arulpragasam had filmed herself. Where Maya is ever-present in her film and thus feeling like the primary author of her own narrative, Flynn often resists being filmed, orients himself away from the camera, only truly sounding comfortable in voice over. In this way McGarry is more apparently a subject than an author. His authorship is singularly to his food. Meg’s authorship is to her son. That is what this film is about. Even the title, seeming to call out its subject “Chef Flynn” was coined by Meg.
Less an attempt at aggrandizing visual poetry and more about a humble visual honesty, Chef Flynn is as much about the titular Chef as it is about the making of the film itself, and about his mother’s own existential struggle, having her creative energy transmuted into the project of her Son’s fast-blooming talent and career.
The most important thing Meg did for her son is recognize and honor his seriousness about food, and then did the hard work of facilitating an environment wherein that creativity, passion and expression could flourish. As an artist herself, who knows the value of the freedom to fail on one’s own terms, this is unsurprising yet still remarkable. From the age of 10, Flynn’s inclinations were toward the kitchen and accelerated with each new tool added to his arsenal. Few children will turn their bedroom into a kitchen, but a very young Flynn already relished the opportunity to experiment in secret without restriction, which is to say you could see the wheels turning in his head from the very start. Meg figured it all out as they went along, from organizing sit-down dinners with the family, to homeschooling Flynn so he could prioritize culinary learning, to running their house like a fine dining restaurant, to NY Times Articles and beyond, all while being a single parent to two children for several of those intervening years.
While there is a flavor of privilege here - a family having the means to provide seemingly exceptional opportunity for their child, not having to navigate socio-economic hinderance or access to materials, a media eager to fan the fire of his ascent - it is also an example of parental investment and sacrifice, and it appears that McGarry has taken that opportunity and run with it despite being the brunt of skepticism and discredit for his age and his circumvention of the normal route to culinary greatness. He’s put in the work and is putting in the work, more nose-to-the-grindstone at 10 then I was in my early twenties and more gastronomically inventive at 20 than me now, a cook in their mid thirties. I am excited to see what happens next, with McGarry but more so with the doors opening wider now to younger creative minds in all fields and in entirely new fields, and a society more and more willing to stoke those embers early.
CHEF FLYNN is distributed by Kino Lorber and is playing at the Ritz at the Bourse.