Celebrity Trumps The Person In 'Chef Flynn' Documentary

Nov 16, 2018

Most of the clichés and cutesy comparisons that can be made, have been made about the young boy-genius chef Flynn McGarry. He’s been written about until you’re fed up with the stories. Newspapers and local television news programs have gushed. The New Yorker wrote about McGarry when he was 13. He’s been on the cover of The New York Times magazine.

So, of course, there’s a documentary about this kid, and given that he is now fundamentally available for dissection, director Cameron Yates has opened yet another angle – Flynn’s mother Megan. The whole business reminds me of one of the early reality TV shows, back in the 1960s. It was called “An American Family,” and for weeks PBS viewers watched the lives of the Loud family play out, and then the progressively desperate antics of the Loud family, as it disintegrated under the pressure of constant television coverage.

Flynn McGarry is now 20; he’s a celebrated chef, and he’s been doing it since he was about 10. He’s also been filmed and photographed so much since he was born that Flynn’s life looks like it was constructed just for the sake of this film – something like Peter Weir’s 1998 movie The Truman Show. You must wonder what’s genuine about this kid, and what’s been fashioned for the sake of the show. 

His mother has been a filmmaker in Los Angeles, so this is her world. She seems to lap up the attentions of the filmmakers. She can seem like an attentive mother; she can also come off as intrusive and self-serving. At one-point Flynn tells an assistant to keep her away from the customers. She can come off as jealous of the attention her son gathers. Maybe the most accurate thing to say, though, is that here’s the awkward portrait of a mother blessed and cursed by a son who’s a genius, and what can a parent do in that situation. Who knows what her place might be, and how she can best care for a son who is expert in the kitchen but is still a kid emotionally.

It’s fascinating to see Flynn McGarry’s talents in action, especially if upscale cooking with tiny portions on big white plates is what you like. It can be disconcerting to see someone so young and so accomplished. Even at 10 he moves like a pro. He knows how to filet a fish; he handles a knife with sure elegant motions, and no wasted movements. At a fish market, he sifts through a basket of abalone like someone who’s been at the game for years. When he arranges food on a plate, he doesn’t fiddle around – he knows what he wants to do; he understands color and shape, and apparently, taste. And he loves beets.

It’s impressive to see him as a 15-year old organizing a kitchen, and even more impressive to see a kitchen staff of much older more experienced people following his directions. But something about Chef Flynn seems off. It’s hard to figure out where and how Flynn learned cooking in the first place, and you may wonder where the money comes from for him to put on lavish dinners in the family home, long before he became known and famous restaurants invited him to put on dinners. Maybe it’s the unsettling sight of a kid being molded into a celebrity. His parents have him performing for their cameras from early childhood, as if they had all of this planned the moment young Flynn boiled his first egg.       

Chef Flynn shows a lot of Flynn McGarry, but not enough concern for him. It feels more like exploitation. Some perspective on this young man would be welcome, and maybe someone ought to worry about his overall well-being and not just jump on the bandwagon for a person who could easily crash as quickly as he rose.

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