By Lawrence DeChant
He has cooked for more than 120 people at a time, worked in top restaurants across the country, and entertains 12 people at his home monthly for an 18-course meal. These accomplishments may seem like the work of a veteran chef, but this cook is only 14 years old.
Flynn McGarry will be taking his talents to BierBeisl, an Austrian restaurant in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Jan. 30 where he will cook a 12-course meal for 40 people -- an event that is already completely sold out and costs $160 a person.
"The chef at BierBeisl is super nice and said, 'Whatever you need, I'll help you cook,' " McGarry said. "It was a natural thing, and it works with the restaurant's schedule and is a lot easier to do it in a restaurant. I am going into this a lot more confident than other dinners. I started working on this [Thursday], running around town getting supplies. It is a week process, which people don't really realize."
McGarry began his cooking career three years ago and said it was something he was instantly drawn too.
"It was to the point that I wanted to do this as much as I could do it. And [it was] after looking at all these cookbooks and going on the Internet and looking at these dishes that I thought, 'I could achieve that one day,'" McGarry said. "I thought, every time I try it, I hope to keep getting better and better. I just fell in love with it."
"My mom didn't really like cooking, and when she did cook I didn't really like her food. And I was watching something on the Food Network, and I thought, 'I could do this,' " he said. "And so I went to the bookstore and I looked for the thickest, biggest cookbook. And I found 'The French Laundry' by Thomas Keller. And things were very hard to make and took six-plus hours to cook. So I decided to try something simpler, like salmon and potatoes and it went from there."
The real "I want to be a chef" moment came when McGarry decided to create his own dishes. He said that a year later, when his skills in the kitchen got better, he was able to cook his way through the majority of the cookbook.
"I've always been very creative, and I wanted to create my own dishes, and I didn't know too much about it -- but I would do variations from 'French Laundry' and other cookbooks and would cook them for my family," McGarry said. "Then, I started liking the creative part of it, and I started to cook for more people than just my family."
McGarry, along with his mother, Meg McGarry, created Eureka, his supper club pop-up business that hosts monthly dinner parties inside his home. He said that he wanted his bedroom to be converted into a kitchen because when he was younger he could not reach the stove. So his family allowed him to build a "test kitchen" out of his bedroom.
His current bedroom -- or test kitchen, rather -- has all of the necessary equipment needed to serve his large dinner parties. The kitchen includes induction burners and a large convection oven, a 10-foot-long plating area, four stations -- one for meat and fish, another for hot appetizers, one for cold appetizers and desserts, and the final station for hors d'oeuvres.
McGarry and his family began hosting dinner parties from inside their home, but things quickly became more complicated, he said.
"As the dishes progressed, it started costing more money. I needed more staff and more plates. It started growing too big," McGarry said. "We ended up having to cut the amount of people from 25 to 14, but we get to serve more courses."
McGarry charges $150 for the Eureka pop-up events at his home and $160 per person for the pop-up event at BierBeisl next Wednesday. He said that he is not doing it for the money but for the ability to do what he loves.
"What people don't realize is it is $160 including tax and tip for 12 courses," he said. "For all of the events at my house, we haven't made money, but with this event we will make a little money. However, it all goes to new dishes. It is not a moneymaking thing. We lowered the prices and we are doing more food and more expensive ingredients. We are thinking of it as a fun night. That's how all chefs think about it -- that we are getting together to enjoy good food, do what we love and have fun."
Desserts like chocolate with hazelnuts and caramel bonbons will also be served that evening by celebrated pastry chef Josh Graves of Ray's and Stark Bar in Los Angeles.
McGarry's mother said that she fully supports her son and, ultimately, it was "not a choice" to allow him to pursue cooking.
"He is progressing so fast and it is super-overwhelming, but it is also exciting," she said. "You are always proud of your children's accomplishments. He showed such passion for this that it was an obvious choice to allow him to do what he loves to do."
McGarry said that focusing on a passion and coupling that passion with hard work "pays off for anyone in the end." He has worked in several restaurants, mostly for free, around Los Angeles and New York City, along with critically acclaimed chefs like Daniel Humm, executive chef of Eleven Madison Park in New York City.
"It was so good to see a chef who rolls with the punches and is so relaxed," McGarry said. "When you have a restaurant of that caliber, it can be stressful and he is always smiling. It was a great opportunity to learn from him."
For aspiring chefs and even other teens with a dream, McGarry offered a few words of advice.
"Focusing on your passion and hard work definitely pays off in the end," he said. "At the point in your life where you stop caring if you're going to be famous or do well, your dream will come to you. I did something with my talent and people recognized."
McGarry also had some advice for food bloggers who say 2012 is the year the "teenage chef goes away."
"Someone wrote that 2012 was the year the teenage chef went away," he said. "Well, I am here to tell them that that isn't true and I am just getting started."
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