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A mother and son defy the restaurant world in “Chef Flynn”

Flynn McGarry plates a dish in the documentary CHEF FLYNN

When you decide to watch a documentary about food, whether it’s a feature length piece on the industry as a whole (ala “Food, Inc.”) or an episode from Food Network’s seemingly endless supply of shows about chefs eating food at other restaurants, there’s always the expectation that you’ll at least get to look at some tantalizing shots of the meals themselves.

But “Chef Flynn” is a food documentary that spends very little time dwelling on the food itself. There are no slow-motion shots of chef’s ladling soup into bowls or customers savoring greasy sandwiches. If you watch documentaries about food to get excited about elaborate dishes that you would never be able afford, then this documentary will disappoint you early on. But if you give the film a chance, then you will instead be treated to a surprisingly endearing study of a mother learning to parent an exceptional child.

Chef Flynn is Flynn McGarry, the teenage chef who began cooking for his mother’s dinner parties at age ten, apprenticing at the prestigious Eleven Madison Park at 13 and opening up his own pop-up restaurant in New York City at age 16. McGarry, now 19, recently opened his first permanent restaurant, Gem, on the Lower East Side. Pete Wells, the New York Times food critic, gave it an impressive two-star review.

When you hear McGarry’s story, you might have some questions about how this boy became who he is. Luckily, Flynn’s mother, Meg McGarry is a filmmaker, documented Flynn’s obsession with cooking from a young age. We see Flynn grow from an enthusiastic pre-teen who pores over cookbooks to a self-conscious teenager who locks himself in his room (which is also his kitchen) to a confident chef who can direct an entire kitchen staff through a stressful restaurant opening.

The finished documentary is a mix of Meg’s old, home-video-style footage and more professional shots from Cameron Yates, the film’s director, who first started following the McGarry’s when Flynn was 14. The change in style can be jarring at times, but the degree of intimacy is rare treat.

It’s clear Yates is just as interested in the chef’s mother as he is the chef. Meg channeled Flynn’s passion. As Flynn grows into his own, Meg is always in the background, finding chefs who are willing to apprentice a teenager and, later, managing the business. One can only imagine what it must be like to be Flynn’s mother, but thanks to Yates, who knows how to ask Meg the right questions, we get an intimate look into her own story as well.

The film can drag at times, especially in the early minutes when Meg, who lacks Yates’s exacting camera skills, is filming Flynn as a child. A bit more time should have been spent on the cooking itself. Flynn and Meg are interesting characters, but it’s hard to understand why Flynn is so exceptional when we rarely get to see him do what he loves.

But by the film’s end, it is difficult not to root for this kid. As the media tears Flynn down and questions his skills as a chef, you may just find yourself cheering Flynn and Meg on as they defy the cruel pressures of the world around them.

And that’s the best a documentary film can do--allow it’s audience to empathize with people they met less than 90 minutes ago.

Rating: B+

“Chef Flynn” premieres on Nov. 23 exclusively at E Street Cinema.

aklabnik@theeagleonline.com


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