While many Los Angeles teens are looking for summer love or surfing, Flynn McGarry is searching for perfect truffles and sockeye salmon for his pop-up restaurant.
McGarry, 14, isn’t old enough to drive, but he has cooked with Daniel Boulud on NBC’s “Today” show. He’s worked in the kitchens of chefs Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago and Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park in New York. Danish superchef Rene Redzepi follows him on Twitter.
McGarry exudes the confidence of a kitchen veteran.
“A cook’s brain involves just doing everything the way someone tells them to,” the lanky and sockless wunderkind said during a conversation at the Aroma Cafe near his Studio City, California home. “A chef’s brain is about thinking, ‘How will I do it?’ and ‘How I would do it better?’ Whether I see a recipe on the Internet or in a cookbook, I learn it once and it’s implanted on my brain.”
His first venture, when he was 11, was a supper club in his mother’s home. Now he showcases his craft at Eureka, a $160-per-person pop-up hosted regularly at BierBiesl, an Austrian restaurant in Beverly Hills.
The 12-course dinner on Aug. 7 will feature novel presentations that won’t be revealed until guests are seated. Movie producer and talent agent Dan Halsted, a repeat customer, still gushes about McGarry’s foraged wild mushrooms served on a charred log.
“His food is as good as Eleven Madison Park’s, and I’ve eaten at (New York’s) Momofuku, and it’s as good as that,” Halsted said by phone. “He’s young, but he’s so knowledgeable. It’s like saying Mozart was only a kid when he created the Requiem’ Mass in D minor.”
Humm, who taught McGarry some of his cooking and plating techniques, saw “poise, dedication and passion” in the precocious chef.
“He has a foundation that is generally not established until reaching the professional level,” Humm said in an e-mail.
McGarry started cooking when he was 10 because, he said, he “didn’t really like” his mom’s food. He later bought master chef Thomas Keller’s “The French Laundry Cookbook,” and found his calling.
McGarry began emulating daring recipes inspired by his heroes including Ferran Adria, Humm and Achatz. His parents converted his bedroom into a test kitchen, complete with induction burners.
“It may seem dangerous moving gas burners into your bedroom, but I could just shut the door and create,” he said.
That’s also when he transferred from public school to Laurel Springs, an online college preparatory program.
In 2010, he began serving meals at his mother’s home. Word-of-mouth spread quickly that a teen chef was kicking out restaurant-quality food, and he found himself cooking 14-course tasting menus for as many as 28. Guests paid as much as $160 each for their meals.
“It became too crazy,” he said. “We didn’t have a commercial dishwasher. When is the day coming when the health department is going to crack down on us? It was way too much for me to handle at age 13.”
Bernhard Mairinger, chef-owner of BierBeisl, learned from a friend that McGarry needed a professional kitchen and dining space and offered him his restaurant on Wednesdays, when BierBiesl is closed. McGarry oversees staff from BierBiesel’s kitchen.
“He’s into every little detail, everything has to be perfect,” said Mairinger, who also began cooking when he was 10.
McGarry has a master plan for his future. It’s a waste of time, he says, to spend $60,000 to attend the Culinary Institute of America. He would instead spend that money traveling around the world to work in the best kitchens and run a world-class place of his own.
“Daniel Humm told me to keep creating because once you stop creating, you stop enjoying it,” McGarry said. “There was a comment on the blog Eater.com that said I’ll burn out in 10 years. Let’s hope not. I’m too invested in this. I enjoy this too much to want to get burned out.”
(Seats are still available for Eureka, McGarry’s pop-up restaurant at BierBiesl, 9669 S. Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills, California on Aug. 7 beginning at 7 p.m. Cost: $120 per person, including tax and gratuity. Information: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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