Teenage Talent Fostered By Wealth and Privilege

In this weekend’s NYT Magazine, Carina Chocano profiled a talented 15-year-old chef named Flynn McGarry who has apprenticed in well-regarded dining establishments like Alinea in Chicago and Eleven Madison Square Park in New York. McGarry plans to move to New York when he is 17 to work at a restaurant, and hopefully start work on his own restaurant at 19. His talent and ambition is impressive.

But as L.V. Anderson points out in Slate, as talented as McGarry is, he has been able to do much of the things he has accomplished so far thanks to the wealth of his family and the connections they have — his mother is a filmmaker and his grandmother is a former NBC executive; his supper club has been thrown for his mother’s friends who include Hollywood actors and producers.

McGarry doesn’t produce high-end restaurant food just because he’s a culinary genius — he produces high-end restaurant food because his parents have bought him lots of high-end restaurant equipment.

This is not to say that McGarry doesn’t deserve his burgeoning success — just that most aspiring chefs his age don’t have custom-built kitchens, “highly specialized” equipment, managers, and wealthy clients. It’s natural that McGarry’s parents would want to reward his interest and knack for cooking with all the gadgets and cooking lessons money can buy — what parents wouldn’t?

But it highlights a problem that’s endemic to all the arts but particularly pronounced when it comes to cuisine: It’s a lot easier to get ahead when you come from an affluent background. Sure, anyone with a stove and a few pots and pans can learn how to cook — but you can’t learn how to cook the modernist cuisine favored by the world’s best chefs without a boatload of expensive lab equipment.

It’s these privileges which makes McGarry’s dream of having his own restaurant at 19 a possibility. “I don’t think I can wait too long, because the real estate [in New York] keeps going up and up and up,” he says in the Times feature. “You can’t wait forever to do it, because if you wait forever, your opportunity might just be gone.”

I hope McGarry becomes self-aware and realizes that these rare opportunities only come to a select privileged few.

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