What does it look like when a 19-year-old opens a restaurant on the Lower East Side? Frankly, not that different from when any adult human opens a trendy downtown spot. Gem, at 116 Forsyth St. between Broome and Delancey streets, is the first restaurant for teen chef prodigy Flynn McGarry — a chef best known as a media sensation who’s been called the “Justin Bieber of food” — and for his debut, he’s pushed out a 36-seat restaurant with lots of yellow tones and ‘70s vibes, designed with his friend Brett Robinson.
It’s been a long time coming. Back in 2014, at just 15 years old, McGarry ambitiously declared that he wanted to open “one of the best restaurants in the world.” Years passed, and though the young chef cooked, it was primarily at tasting menu pop-ups, where meals could run $180 per head.
Currently, just an 18-seat casual cafe-style portion called The Living Room is open at Gem, serving pastries like a blueberry violet muffin and sweet potato bread. It’s McGarry’s version of a neighborhood coffee shop. But what fans (and haters) will be eyeing more closely is the eventual start of the chef’s tasting menu portion in a separate space dubbed The Dining Room, starting in two weeks.
There, he’ll be serving a 12- to 15-course menu for $155 evoking a dinner party for 18 people. His signature dish — a take on a Ritz cracker sandwich with foie gras, peanuts, and sour cherry — will start off the meal. Later on, dishes will include a slow-roasted sunchoke with seaweed, pumpkin seed oil, and apples that’s plated like a fall wreath, as well as a winter squash topped with pumpkin seeds and accompanied by kogi and lime. One course will offer family-style portions with dishes such as pasta, followed by dessert, petit fours, and after-dinner drinks back in The Living Room.
With a Times magazine cover, a Vogue profile, a documentary that debuted at Sundance this year, and more than 70,000 Instagram followers, McGarry has been a celebrity chef for years. It’s a status that has drawn a lot of curiosity and a lot of skepticism.
But McGarry’s previous pop-up dinners have sold out before, and he insists that despite his age, he’s still doing everything else that restaurateurs in New York must do, from paying rent to managing staff. He knows there will always be people who won’t be thrilled with his age, and he doesn’t care. “I just do my job,” he has told Eater. “I don’t mean to offend anyone. If people are offended, that’s fine, but that’s not my intention. I just want to cook food, and it seems to bother a lot of people, and that’s okay.”
Take a look around. The Living Room is now open during the day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Reservations are already live for The Dining Room, which opens on February 27th.