We've all been there—knee deep in a "MasterChef Junior" marathon, awestruck at the contestants' ability to command a kitchen, and wondering how on earth they got to be a better cook than you. Newsflash: It takes perseverance, creativity, and in chef wunderkind Flynn McGarry's case, a mother "who wasn't the best cook."  

If dashing young chefs with a penchant for pasta aren't exactly your thing, 19-year-old chef Flynn McGarry is the culinary world's answer to boredom. Known for hosting elaborate dinner parties since the age of 11 and his refreshingly innovative take on upscale tasting menus, Flynn has had people waiting with bated breath for his next venture — Gem. Gem, Flynn's first brick-and-mortar restaurant that doubles as a neighborhood cafe and intimate tasting venue, is "exactly what he always wanted a restaurant to be."  

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of interviewing Flynn about all things Gem, being a young chef, and how to mature past that label.

Meet Flynn

Spoon University: What initially drew you to cooking? 

Flynn McGarryMy mother wasn’t the best cook so when I was younger I started to research cooking. I realized then how creative cooking can be. It became an outlet for me to experiment with my own creativity. 

S: What was the first dish you felt you had mastered? Does cooking that dish now feel more or less exciting than when you first learned? 

FM: I was 11 when I first taught myself how to make pasta. I still love making pasta 'til this day — it's a course on Gem's menu.

S: What was the first cookbook you went through from cover to cover? 

FM: The first cookbook I went through from cover to cover was "The French Laundry Cookbook" by Thomas Keller.  

#SpoonTip: If refined French cooking and precise recipes that relish in the beauty of achieving the final product perfectly are your thing, this book will make you swoon. 

S: What or who are your biggest influences or inspirations, both in and out of the culinary world? 

FM: I would have to say my biggest culinary inspiration is Rene Redzepi because no one else thinks about food the way he does. Outside of the culinary world, I would say my inspiration is Glenn O’Brien, GQ's "The Style Guy." 

S: When did you first know you wanted to open up a restaurant? Did that initial vision align more with Eureka, his first east coast tasting pop-up, or Gem?  

FM: I’ve always know that I wanted to open a restaurant. My initial vision aligned more with what I was doing at Eureka, but then I started really editing my cooking. Gem is exactly what I have always wanted a restaurant to be.

S: Besides cooking, what are your other passions? 

FM: I really love good design. 

Meet Gem (The Restaurant)

Gem's goal is to be your home away from home. The cafe portion, cheekily titled The Living Room, is the perfect place to unwind with a decadent pastry and that book you've been meaning to read. The Living Room is also the host of the opening courses to McGarry's multi-course tasting menu, which mirrors an intimate dinner party much like the one that kick started his career. After snacks, you enter the Dining Room, where family style courses of heartier pastas and rustic meat-centric feasts are served. Ultimately, this menu is different than any other tasting menu offered in New York City. It's more intimate, more versatile, more Flynn. 

S: Gem resides in the space previously occupied by Cafe Henrie, where you hosted occasional Pasta Nights. What made this space the right one for Gem? Does it have anything to do with its connection to Cafe Henrie

FM: Yes, I had known the owner, André Saraiva. We had discussed me taking over the space for about nine months. I had an attachment to the space. I have also always loved the Lower East Side. To me, it feels like true New York. 

S: How much of Gem’s dinner party concept is reminiscent of the ones you threw when you were younger? What parts of its concept have evolved or changed? 

FM: The food has changed a lot and also the way that we serve the food. The overall experience - the length of the meal, how the tasting menu is broken up into shared courses, the “feast,” etc. 

S: How does the vibe of Gem differ from any of your prior residencies? Does it feel more or less personal, and why? 

FM: Gem is definitely more personal. I designed the space keeping in mind how I would design my dream apartment/kitchen. Unlike my pop-up residencies, we don’t have to constantly be moving things around, we can just really settle into where we are cooking. I am excited to see how the space will evolve over time.

S: What’s your favorite dish on the tasting menu, taste wise? Which one is the most fun (or challenging) to cook? 

FM: I love the idea of the “feast” portion of our menu. It’s a unique way to break up your typical tasting menu experience because we’re serving several courses at once. It’s fun and unexpected and the guest is always excited about it. Upon opening, we started out with a lamb-focused “feast," but we just changed our menu so now we’re doing pork neck, pork sausage, pork lettuce wraps, leeks with black sesame, and a pork broth.  

More on Being a Young Chef

S: What advice would you give to any aspiring chefs?

FM: Learn the basics first! 

S: How do you feel your youth has worked to your advantage in the culinary industry? How has it worked to your detriment? 

FM: I feel like my age has opened up a lot of opportunities that I wouldn’t have had if I had started this later. But, at the same time, it’s brought on a lot of criticism and hesitation. 

S: You’ve spoke a lot about how you feel the media only portrays a facet of you, mostly regarding you as “the teen chef.” How do you feel about this label following you to Gem? What would you like the readers to know about you as a person leaving your restaurant and after reading this article?

FM: We do the same thing as all of the other restaurants out there, no matter our age. We’re trying to create a really personal, unique experience. When our guests leave, I want them to feel like they know me and my staff. 

The Bottom Line 

If anything stands out from following Flynn McGarry's meteoric rise, it's the notion that food should be personal. His tasting menus exemplify this, doling out more than just artfully butchered lamb and cheekily paired foie gras; they dole out bits of his effervescent essence. All I can say is that I'm excited to see what Flynn does next. 

#SpoonTip: To get in on a feast in The Dining Room, make a reservation for one of his 12-15 seat tastings here.