Exclusive: Flynn McGarry Wants You to Visit Him at Gem
A lot has been written about Flynn McGarry. The teen chef. The prodigy. Everyone seems to have an opinion about the ambitious young cook who eschewed high school boy antics in favor of staging at fine-dining establishments, like Eleven Madison Park, and bringing Eureka, his tasting menu-focused pop-up, from coast to coast.
In the last year, the chef has been quietly planning his first permanent restaurant in New York City, Gem. It’s his mother’s name backwards. (And now it’s not so secret anymore after Eater picked up on the liquor license.) In the last few days, he’s been preparing himself for red-carpet interviews at the Sundance debut of a documentary about his rise, “Chef Flynn.”
He’s eloquent and confident for a 19-year-old, so he’ll do fine during the festival circuit. He’s used to being quick on his feet, always on the move after operating the pop-ups for the last seven years. But when asked what he wants people to understand about him or about Gem, he pauses.
“People make overarching statements about me, and I’ve been known to say some things, too,” says McGarry. “But at the end of the day, I’m just making dinner. And I want to cook you dinner.”
Sure, Gem is the restaurant where McGarry could feel the pressure of needing to prove himself. But after closing down his residency at Kava Café in New York City early last year, he didn’t travel around the world for inspiration. Instead, he took that time to settle down in his new hometown, finally throw some dinner parties and make it to ones hosted by friends.
“I saw how people moved in a dinner party,” he says. “It always follows this pattern: You start with a drink in the living room and get a few hors d’oeuvres. Then everyone hangs out in the kitchen while the person is making dinner. And finally, everyone sits down to some salads and one main course to share.”
He was reminded his favorite time in his whole career of cooking: The little dinners he threw at his mom’s house in San Fernando Valley, the start of Eureka.
“That’s when it was the most fun,” he says. “Now we’re going back to that vibe.”
Housed in the old Café Henrie space in the Lower East Side, Gem is broken into two concepts: The Living Room, an all-day coffee shop and café for the neighborhood, and The Dining Room, a $155 set menu that blurs the line between dinner party and tasting menu. The Living Room is set to open first next month on February 13, while The Dining Room will debut a couple weeks later on February 27.
The Dining Room follows that dinner party pattern McGarry described. The night starts with Champagne and a snack in the living room area of the restaurant, then you eat a course in the kitchen with McGarry and his cooks. The rest of the meal unfolds with a few small plates. (Some ideas McGarry is toying with are peanut Ritz crackers with foie gras and quince and winter squash glazed in a pumpkin char siu sauce.) Then there’s a big bowl of pasta to share, like grilled chicory-filled agnolotti. (A remnant of the one trip he did take last year: A month spent in Italy over the summer.) Finally, it ends with a large-format feast making use of all parts of the protein. (For winter lamb, loin with a bagna cauda tartare and yogurt-cooked potatoes drizzled with a lamb-fat vinaigrette.) There are two seatings every night, but the way McGarry has organized the space and schedule, diners can stay as long as they want. Just like at a dinner party.
“For a long time, I wanted to do something flashy, but at the end of the day, I wanted to be in a space that was mine, and I wanted a big bowl of pasta,” says McGarry.
But as McGarry grows and adapts, he knows Gem will, too. Don’t wait to read about it. Just come to the restaurant, he encourages everyone.
“If you don’t know who I am, listen to the music and check the bathroom soap at Gem, and you’ll leave knowing me as a person,” he says. “Everyone has written about me as more of an idea, this weird kid who likes to cook.”
“See me at the restaurant,” he continues. “This is how I express myself, and this is how people will understand me the most.”