Chef Flynn


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Chef Flynn
"There's an impressive range of mouthwatering dishes on display, constantly being adapted and upgraded." | Photo: Will McGarry

Did you have a fixation on something when you were a kid? Lots of youngsters want to become astronauts or ballet dancers or pop stars or explorers. Needless to say, most of them don't make it, not simply because it's tough to do but because their passions change and they discover lots of other things they want to try. Flynn McGarry was never that kind of kid. As soon as he tried cooking, he fell in love, and he has been single-minded about it ever since. He set his heart on becoming a top chef and by the age of 12 he was already receiving serious attention.

Being a child prodigy is never easy. Flynn receives a lot of negative attention on social media and sometimes even directly, people apparently thinking that success makes a child an acceptable target for that. But he's well looked after by an appreciative family and local community, not least because they were the first in line to enjoy his creations. This sensitively handled documentary explores the way that he progressed from turning his bedroom into a kitchen to turning the family home into a restaurant, eventually travelling to New York to take on some of the best in the business at their own game.

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Flynn is an amiable kid, a little obsessive but appreciative of the sacrifices that others - especially his mother - have made for him. Her devotion is particularly impressive given the casual way that he tells the filmmakers he took up his craft because her cooking was awful. There's nothing mean about him though, just the carelessness of youth. His skill and professionalism make it all too easy to be blindsided when this shows through in other ways. His mother knows that it makes him vulnerable but also knows that it would be futile to get in his way. Whilst he's quick to take responsibility for everything and see himself as the master of his fate, she gently tries to steer him along a path that will keep him from exploitation and danger. It's largely this interplay between the two that gives the film its universal character and an appeal that goes beyond the culinary community.

If you are a food lover, however, the film will not disappoint you. There's an impressive range of mouthwatering dishes on display, constantly being adapted and upgraded. One hopes that the kid can retain his inventiveness over time. This places this film in the select category of those you should see after eating a large dinner in order to keep your stomach calm and avoid the temptation to make expensive impulse purchases directly afterwards.

In and around this, there's an exploration of what it means to be a chef and the way that restaurant culture is changing. Flynn is part of a new wave of young culinary stars who have rejected the traditional route of going through formal training and spending years in apprenticeships. And although he's white and male, he emphasises the importance of opening up opportunity to those who are not, of bringing diverse talents to the table. It's a perspective that comes naturally to many in his generation, even if it's not the best way to make friends in high places - the sort of friends he needs in order to open up opportunities at the next level.

Because we only follow Flynn into his mid teens, we don't get to see how all this turns out, but what we do get is a portrait of a young man at a critical stage in his career, and a glimpse of the drive it takes to realise a childhood dream. Is this robbing him of a normal childhood? Perhaps, but Flynn quite reasonably points out that lots of people don't have normal childhoods. For him, there are more important things.

Reviewed on: 27 Nov 2018
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A documentary following a talented child chef who is determined to make it to the top of his chosen profession.

Director: Cameron Yates

Starring: Flynn McGarry, Meg McGarry, Paris McGarry

Year: 2018

Runtime: 82 minutes

Country: US

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