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Beginnings: The Breakthrough Moment

Flynn McGarry, Chef

“I, as a very precocious 10-year-old, was like, ‘I could probably do better than this.’”

Flynn Mcgarry.  

It started kind of in a strange way, which was that my mom was a terrible cook. And I, as a very precocious 10-year-old, was like, “I could probably do better than this.” So she was like, “Okay, by all means start cooking so I don’t have to do it.” So we went to Barnes & Noble or wherever and I picked out the most expensive cookbook that was wrapped in plastic on the top shelf, which turned out to be The French Laundry Cookbook. And I had no clue what the French Laundry was, what that type of food was, or anything at that point. But I brought it home and just read through the entire thing in like one day. And it just blew my mind. I was instantly like, “I need to do this.”

But the real moment where I guess you could say I was like “This is exactly what I want to do” is the first time I staged at Eleven Madison Park. I met Daniel Humm at a book signing, and it was in L.A., so no one really cared that there was just me at the book signing. So we were just talking and then I cooked some dishes from the book and had photos on my phone of them. I think one of them was like this scallop dish with tangerine and fennel, and there was another one that I can’t really remember. But I take these photos of them and they kind of looked exactly like they did in the book. Then I actually found out later that they used that when everyone was like, “This book is too hard to cook out of,” they’re like, “Well, there’s this 12-year-old in L.A. who’s cooking from it, so it can’t be that hard.” So then we were talking and he was like, “Oh, look, if you ever want a reservation or something, email me.” And my mom chimed in and she was like, “No, he wants to work for you.” And then he was like, “Okay, you could do that too.” And then, I think it was like a month later, I flew to New York to go work there.

I was 12 or 13, so she went with me. She was not in the kitchen, though, and that’s a very intimidating place to be when you’re that young. From the get-go, every day I was on a different station learning how garde manger works, how the hot line works, how to expedite, how pastries work, like every single station. Over time, they had me cook a dish. And the first time, it will stick with me forever. It’s one thing that every single day I think about. I made him a squab dish—squab, some type of purée, some potato thing, and it looked fine. All the techniques were kind of there, but Daniel Humm tasted it and he’s like, “It’s good,” but he was saying that every single dish you make needs to be perfectly in balance. It has to have the right amount of sweetness, the right amount of salt, the right amount of acid, the right amount of crunch to the sauce. Everything needs to be perfectly in balance, and that’s what makes a good dish. And then I literally watched him fix my sauce, adding vinegar, all these things, and then I tasted it and it was incredible. Ever since then, every single dish I do, when I think about it, it’s all about the dish being balanced. That’s why it tastes good.