Cooking Is Therapeutic for Flynn McGarry

“I needed an outlet.”

The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Flynn McGarry got famous as a tween chef cooking elaborate tasting menus, and now, at age 20, he's the star of a documentary (Chef Flynn) as well as the owner and chef of an acclaimed New York restaurant (Gem). He serves fancy things like braised celery root, but lucky for us, he's sharing his secrets. 

I was ten years old when I started cooking, and I’ve been cooking for ten years now. I got into cooking because it felt therapeutic, focusing on a singular thing. My parents were going through a divorce, and I wanted a new hobby. I needed an outlet. I think the first thing I made was a Waldorf salad.

It's been a crazy year since I opened Gem. And I'm not a teen chef anymore! Since November of 2017, I've spent almost every single day here, in New York, at my restaurant. Before I'd do a pop-up, and then I would go travel for a few months. It's been a year of seeing everything that can go wrong in a restaurant and everything that can go right.The first year of running a restaurant, I had no clue what I was doing. I mean, I knew how to cook, but I had no clue about the majority of the stuff that could happen to a small-business owner in your first year — like the ceiling collapsing. Our biggest achievement was the relationships that we created with farmers and purveyors. We learned more about how food grows.

But I do honestly think it’s still a hurdle for people to take me seriously as a chef. I don't think it's going to go away for a while. There’s not that much difference between ages 19 and 20. It's still not the norm. When people come into the restaurant, they're not coming back because I’m a young chef. They're coming because they really enjoyed the experience and had a good time. Same thing with reviews. There was so much notoriety before the restaurant ever opened. It is a work in progress.

I do honestly think it’s still a hurdle for people to take me seriously.

I braised celery root in The Dutchess. This is a dish that was on our menu for a little bit, and everyone wanted a big bowl of it. It's celery root that we braise in red wine, like coq au vin. We marinate it overnight in red wine with some herbs, carrots, and onions. Then we braise it slowly on the stove top. Or you could do it in the oven. It takes about two to two and a half hours.

Serve it with a really creamy, buttery celery purée because the celery root itself is pretty astringent after being cooked in wine. That silky, buttery purée cuts through all of that, and it has the taste of braised meat in red wine. For the purée, cook some celery and some milk, and blend it with butter and a little lemon juice. Put some bread on the side to mop up the juice. It’s a nice, comforting meal — a good vegetarian alternative to a hearty stew.

Put some bread on the side to mop up the juice.

I’m impressed by the heat distribution of The Dutchess — it works well on induction. We find sometimes, even with stainless steel, that that isn’t the case. That is the great thing about the heft of this pot — it connects to the induction fully. I like the color. The Dutchess really feels like my new best friend.

To this day, if I'm having a crazy day, I will just go in the kitchen, and no one is allowed to bother me. Especially now, in owning a restaurant, as much as I have to deal with all of the other business stuff, there are days when everything else in the world does not really matter.

The Dutchess really feels like my new best friend.

Photos by Liz Clayman

Cooking feels like simplifying everything in my life. You're working with tools and ingredients … to me, it's the same thing as painting, in terms of it being therapeutic. You have a goal and then you have to just do things slowly to get it done right.