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13-Year-Old Flynn McGarry's 9-Course Playa Pop-Up

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On what level does one critique a meal prepared by a 13-year-old? Does one compare the meal to every other meal ever consumed? Meaning, food prepared by world famous chef such as Joel Robuchon, Alain Ducasse... Or does one lower standards and evaluate the meal based on the general kitchen capabilities (if any) of someone aged 13 years? These are most appropriate considerations when recounting last night's nine course modern American meal served at John Sedlar's Playa, a restaurant usually known for its contemporary Latin flavors.

Flynn McGarry is 13 years young. He is skinny with a face full of freckles, and has shaggy, dirty blonde hair that falls in his face every time he hunches over a plate. His mother, Meg, never liked to cook, so one day, three years ago, Flynn decided to start cooking. The second recipe he ever prepared (Flynn can't remember the first) was out of Thomas Keller's French Laundry cookbook. Right off the bat he cooked through that, then moved on to Grant Achatz's Alinea.

Though he has orchestrated pop-up dinners out of his parent's San Fernando Valley home called Eureka and takes to the kitchen twice a week at Ray's and Stark Bar on Wilshire, Flynn has never before commanded his own kitchen or filled up a restaurant with diners eager to try his food. Last night, his sold out dinner at Playa was the first but not the last. A part of the proceeds from yesterday's meal go to help pay for a plane ticket to Chicago where Flynn has been invited to stage at Grant Achatz's Alinea and Next for four days a piece. When he returns, Flynn will cook his second Eureka at Playa dinner. He says he is already working on his dishes. When asked what he does as a kid outside of his cooking stints Flynn responds very solemnly, and as if I've just insulted him, "I'm not a kid."

According to The New Yorker, Flynn McGarry is a "culinary wunderkind," and while some might take issue with the fact that Flynn has only been cooking for three years and is clearly a neophyte, it's hard to ague with the simplest reality. Flynn is 13-years-old and last night he executed a nine-course menu which was served to 100, maybe more guests. Does Flynn want a restaurant? He himself says he's not yet ready.

It's rare here on Eater to find actual food porn. But, in this instance we made an exception to share last night's meal. Above, the parade of seven savory dishes followed by two sweet plates which comprised the evening. At 3AM on Wednesday morning Flynn hit Topanga Canyon to forage greens for the meal (instead of a guidebook Flynn uses an iPhone app which helps him identify edibles) like chive blossoms which appeared on the first course. A chilled, clean asparagus soup with fried shallots, pine nuts, and chive blossoms.

Plates were a little bit mixed up. Course three, an English pea "lollipop" with chamomile and crispy prosciutto arrived second, and followed by course two, roasted carrots with sweet shortbread caraway crackers, pickled rhubarb and cucumber rolls, followed by a second third course English pea "lollipop." A shallow brilliant pink strawberry take on gazpacho arrived next, brightened with a supremed grapefruit wedge, torn basil, cauliflower and large croutons. Course five was solely described as "MUSHROOMS: on a log," visually, exactly that, superseded by sous-vide trout portioned next to a mound of tangled celery, leek, and wild greens. Likely foraged. It took Flynn a good two minutes to describe the final savory course, a deconstructed plate of perfectly cooked beef surrounded by a playground of alliums, turnip squares, halved blackberries, and romaine. Plate portions were small, but eventually one filled up.

A liquid nitrogen-frozen mass sat atop a strawberry basil jus reminiscent of a Michael Voltaggio dessert from his Langham days, and finally an ethereally light chocolate plate titled "CHOCOLATE" served with sesame cookies and a coconut ice cream (not pictured).

Throughout the evening, which didn't end until around 11:30PM, Flynn would pass through the dining room checking on diners, explaining plates, and posing for a picture or two. After attending Noma chef René Redzepi's UCLA lecture on Monday, Flynn has been experimenting with the notion of fruits as spices and this week created his own version of Redzepi's smoked cucumber powder but with seaonal California melon. At the end of the lecture Redzepi said to Flynn, "Would you like to come and stage at Noma?" [EaterWire]


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