Welcome back to Friday afternoon. I’ve got recommendations for two culinary documentaries to check out this weekend: one tells a fascinating story about a very young chef, while another looks at some of the big problems facing the restaurant industry today. They’re both worth watching, but for very different reasons. Up first, my thoughts on Chef Flynn, followed by notes on The Heat and a roundup of this week’s food-related entertainment news.
True tales of a teenage chef (and his mom)
Chef Flynn McGarry is a divisive figure in the food world. While some people regard the 20-year-old chef as a proper culinary prodigy, other dismiss his success — and the fact that he was getting media attention as a 13-year-old — as merely the product of good spin. No matter what your opinion about the McGarry phenomenon may be, the new documentary Chef Flynn will likely make you see the wunderkind in a different light. Drawing heavily on archival footage from the chef’s filmmaker mom, Meg, the documentary tracks the evolution of his LA-area supper club, Eureka, from a humble gathering for friends and family to a nationally-renowned dining sensation.
At its core, this is a movie about a mother and a son going through a tumultuous period in both of their lives. While Flynn expressed an interesting in cooking at an early age, it became a full-blown obsession once Meg separated from her alcoholic husband. As she films her son giving a tour of the bedroom-kitchen that he’s created for himself in their Southern California home, it becomes clear that Flynn is building a world for himself to get lost in — a safe space where he’s totally in control. “I wanted to just be in there and shut the door and test things and figure them out by myself,” he explains.
Like most kids his age, Flynn yearns for more independence (“I had 10 years of childhood — I think that that’s enough,” he says). And like most parents, Meg wants her son to be happy doing something he loves, while also staying close to his family. The steady, simmering tension between mother and son is what makes Chef Flynn so engrossing.
After spending a week in the kitchen of Eleven Madison Park at the age of 13, Flynn’s dedication to cooking morphs into something else entirely. His tasting menus become increasingly sophisticated, and Meg finds herself acting less like a mom and more like the general manager of a restaurant operating on very thin margins. Meg and Flynn eventually take Eureka to New York City — the place where he ultimately wants to make it big — for a pop-up that proves to be the ultimate test of their relationship.
By the end of the film, Flynn is living by himself in Greenwich Village, while Meg is settling into a new apartment of her own in LA. In a smart choice, filmmaker Cameron Yates never spells out whether the Manhattan pop-up was deemed a success or a failure, or what Flynn or Meg’s plans are next. But you get the sense that they’ve both weatherd a huge transition — those early teenager years — and landed, safely, on the other side.
Flynn is a charismatic young guy, even, somehow, when he’s arguing with his mom. But the real reason the film works as well as it does is that instead of simply showcasing Flynn’s culinary virtuosity, Yates focuses on the emotional lives of the McGarrys. Chef Flynn is now streaming on YouTube and iTunes.
Meet the women rewriting the rules of the kitchen
The Heat, a new documentary by Canadian filmmaker Maya Gallus, features eight female chefs sharing stories about sexism in the restaurant industry, and how they’ve found success without buying into toxic kitchen culture.
These issues have come under increased scrutiny over the past few years as more women have come forward with their tales from behind the line, both through op-eds in national publications (including Eater), as well during events like Cherry Bombe Jubilee. And, of course, the revelations of sexual misconduct by a number of famous male chefs has also fueled countless conversations about the injustices that women face in the kitchen. As several of the chefs in The Heat note, while these discussions are important, talking is not going to fix the problem.
“I’m not sure whether things have improved for women that much in the kitchen — the fight and the struggle and the complaints are still the same,” says Victoria Blamey, the former chef at Chumley’s in Manhattan. “We are a little bit more like the chervil on the salad; we’re some kind of garnish because it looks good. People need to see that you’re promoting women.” A few of the chefs in the film, including French star Anne-Sophie Pic and Toronto talent Suzanne Barr, speak about the importance of creating kitchens where female chefs can learn and grow, while others, like Gordon Ramsay’s former partner Angela Hartnett, emphasize the importance of running calm kitchens, even under the traditional brigade system.
Another recurring theme in The Heat is that for real change to happen, consumers and the media also need to champion more female chefs and healthier kitchen culture in general. “Having more women in kitchens is definitely changing something, but I think we can’t solve this problem from just our side,” says former Annisa chef Anita Lo. “When you talk about solving something, there’s usually a system that is complex that needs to be addressed. I would love to be able to change that culture, I’m doing my best.”
While the film offers glimpses of the cuisine that these chefs are preparing, food really isn’t the focus of the documentary: The Heat dedicates most of its running time to exposing the unfortunate truths about restaurant life. And although there isn’t one sweeping narrative arc that unites all of these stories, the interview segments are roughly grouped by theme, making the finished product feel something akin to talking to a group of your chef friends at an intimate gathering. This thought-provoking 70-minute documentary is now available to stream on Amazon Prime and iTunes.
In other entertainment news…
- Nailed It! fans may want to check out the Mexican version of the show, which features a brand new set of hosts and cake fails. Season one is now streaming on Netflix.
- Here is your weekly moment of zen: Ina Garten and Seth Meyers day drinking at Corner Bistro.
- Does this Japanese-style deep dish pizza have too much cheese? Or just the right amount?
- When he was a waiter at Bubba Gump’s in Times Square, Chris Pratt used to eat shrimp from plates that were headed back to the kitchen.
- Note to all future Top Chef contestants: Just don’t put the boxed waffle mix in your shopping cart.
- The Super Bowl was boring, but it produced at least one great meme: Dana Perino’s queso.
- Meanwhile, the Game of Thrones/Dilly Dilly crossover was the big hit of the commercial breaks this year.
- And finally, it appears that Jonah Hill is directing some sort of Vampire Weekend video set at NYC appetizing institution Zabar’s.
Have a great weekend everyone, and if you’re looking for something to cook that will make your house smell great, consider checking out Nik Sharma’s recipe for chicken roasted with citrus and apples.