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Flynn McGarry Explains What It’s Like to Open Your Own Restaurant

Much attention has been paid to Flynn McGarry’s age, perhaps at the expense of his talent. Sure, the chef is only 19, but to us, that only helps underscore his abilities and work ethic, both of which allowed him to open Gem in New York last spring. At Gem, diners can experience a 12-course tasting menu spread out over a casual two hours, allowing them to savor McGarry’s unique daily creations served up fresh. Intrigued, O.N.S visited Flynn at Gem last week to get his insights on opening a restaurant, hard work, and even his favorite cooking technique.

What interested you about cooking? 

I was just fascinated by how creative I could be with cooking. There’s a whole craft to it—something about that kept me interested in learning more and more about it.

Cooking is intricate. What’s your favorite step when you’re cooking something complicated?

My favorite step in preparing a new dish is definitely the conceptualization phase—thinking about new combinations and experimenting with new ingredients and flavors.

Why’d you get into cooking when your peers were focusing on other things?

I started cooking because I didn’t like my parent’s cooking. When I was 10, my mom took me to a cookbook store and allowed me to pick out one book. Of course, I chose Thomas Keller’s French Laundry cookbook—and, from then, on I was hooked!

What’s your favorite cooking technique?

Grilling, for sure.

You’ve accomplished so much for a 19-year-old, especially opening your own restaurant, Gem. How’d you conceptualize Gem and what are your goals for it?

From the beginning, I wanted Gem to emulate the dinners I started having at my mother’s house when I was 13. My primary goal has always been to have our guests feel like they are at home when they eat here. Having a meal at Gem is like going to a dinner party, but with a more intricate menu.

Chefs work long, hard hours. What’s your day-to-day schedule at Gem on, say, a busy Saturday?

I start the day with a cup of coffee, then head to the farmer’s market at Union Square. By mid-morning, I’m back at the restaurant and working on prep for the day. We have our line up meeting with the staff to talk about the evening ahead at 5pm, before we start service at 6pm. We offer two seatings—6pm and 9pm—and finish around midnight (depending on the evening and the crowd). On Saturdays, we also do a deep clean of the restaurant after service. Eventually, I’ll head home and finish whatever else I needed to for that week.

What’s been the most satisfying cooking experience for you since moving from LA to NYC?

Opening the restaurant!

Gem is beautiful with serious Scandinavian design vibes. How’d you get such lovely interior design? Did you work with someone specific?

I designed Gem in close conversation with my friend, Brett Robinson. I wanted it to feel very personal. The Scandinavian influences are a nod to my own personal style.

What books or chefs have inspired you lately?

Rene Redzepi, Alain Passard, and the new Noma fermentation book, The Noma Guide to Fermentation.

Being young with such a serious career, do you ever worry you missed out on certain teenage experiences?

No, I love what I do.

I’m sure you’ve inspired other young people. What would you tell them to help them accomplish their goals? 

Work hard and don’t give up. Also, showing up on time never hurts.

What’s next for you and Gem? Anything special for Fall?

Lots of wild mushrooms and wild game birds. Going into the fall, our cooking is starting to get more rich and brooding.

Given that you have accomplished so many things at a young age, what’s been your most fearless career moment? 

Opening a restaurant and running my own business at an age when most people don’t normally do this.

Be sure to follow Flynn on IG here: @diningwithflynn

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