Walk into any lauded restaurant and you’ll find that every exacting detail—from the menu, to the amuse bouche, to the tablescape—is as unique as the chef who chose it. Yet for all the differences among the world’s most celebrated chefs—their journeys, cuisines, presentations—what unites them is an unyielding, all-encompassing love of food, and all the ways in which it can be sliced, diced, heated, and seasoned. Even for chefs Cosme Aguilar of Casa Enríque and Flynn McGarry, the cooking phenom behind Gem—two men who, on the surface, have little in common but their titles—it all boils down to food.
For McGarry, his love for cooking started at the young age of 10. Initially he turned to cooking for the sole purpose of eating well, but later, as his parents were in the process of divorcing, it became an outlet for a young boy experiencing family upheaval. “At first it was this therapeutic thing for me,” McGarry says. “Everything can be crazy in your life, but when you’re doing the physical act of cooking, it brings you to the moment you’re in and you can focus on that.”
The young chef began throwing dinner parties at his parents’ Los Angeles home, where he would cook a 12-course menu for 20 people. These dinners became one of the hottest reserva- tions in L.A. When he finished high school, he worked in kitchens throughout Northern Europe and New York. He opened Gem a little over a year ago. The 12-seat restaurant is reminiscent of his childhood dining room, where everything he churns out on the tasting menu reflects what’s inspiring him in that moment.
Aguilar also taps into something greater while cooking authentic dishes like ceviche de pescado and chile relleno enchi- ladas at Casa Enríque, New York’s only Michelin-starred Mexican restaurant. As one of six children growing up in Chiapas, Mexico he watched his mother, who died when he was just seven years old, run their family kitchen. Though he didn’t start cooking until his twenties, he thinks of his family each time he stands over the stove. “Cooking makes me remember my childhood and it takes me back to my home when we were little,” says Aguilar. “Cooking creates nice, quiet memories for me.”
Where McGarry recognized his passion early, for Aguilar, cooking was a way to pay the bills, at first. He came to the United States at 21, speaking very little English, and worked nights as a porter at a French restaurant. One morning, he stayed on to help the incoming team prep for the day. When the chef saw his skills, he asked him to switch shifts.
“My beginning was being in the line, cooking, and making the dishes they wanted,” Aguilar says. “I was French-trained and I had no experience in Mexican cuisine, because my mother taught my sister the things we cooked at home, not me. But I believe that if you have a base in cooking, you can cook anything you want. Everyone tells me I cook Mexican cuisine like a French chef.”
For both chefs, their love of food transcends anything they could possibly make in a kitchen. Neither of them dislike any kind of food, save for McGarry’s distaste of papaya. “I think it’s disgusting and I’ve never enjoyed it, but I’m willing to try it again,” he says. Both men are known to dine out on cheap food when they’re not cooking high-end cuisine. For McGarry, Chinese takeout saves him after a late night, and for Aguilar, it’s a sandwich from the local deli, though he’s not proud of it.
“Chefs eat the worst food,” he says. “We make the most delicious food, but then we don’t want to touch it. So I’ll end up eating something I regret because I just want to eat someone else’s food.”