Home Vibe Inspires Restaurant Experience

by Inga Yandell

On February 27, the Dining Room component of Gem opened in New York City with 19-year-old “prodigy” chef Flynn McGarry. The Living Room—Gem’s casual, café counterpart—opened on February 12, 2018. This exciting debut follows the world premiere of his namesake documentary “CHEF FLYNN” at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, and is a culmination of nearly a decade of cooking at his supper club restaurant, EUREKA, which he operated as pop-ups and residencies in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City, beginning at just 12-years-old.

Gem’s inviting space(s) reflect something sought by modern culture, an oasis of comfort to restore and revive the spirits in an environment of high-energy and polished veneer. Rooms at Gem bare titles which resonate the sanctuary of home, this invites diners to relax and enjoy the experience. We admire cultures who spend lazy lunches in good company, but the fierce pace of our modern cities is primed for fast food with little time to socialise. That’s why Gem and Chef Flynn are such a welcomed retreat in the big apple.

Q/A with Chef Flynn

What inspired you to reimagine cafe culture with a touch from home?

I wanted to have a place where people could come in during the daytime—a “living room” in the middle of New York City. It’s also a nice way for people to experience Gem even if they aren’t coming in for dinner. I wanted everyone who visits Gem to feel like guests in my home—they can relax, hang out all day, work…

What is your vision of an intimate space and how does Gem reflect this?

Gem is a small space, we can seat 18 on either side at any given time (the Living Room and the Dining Room). For me, it’s a perfect mix of clean and minimal but also comfortable. We have a vintage Persian rug in the Living Room…. in the Dining Room, we have an island-style open kitchen which is visible from every point in the room. It feels very intimate and like you’re in someone’s home—our guests can watch as we prepare the meal. Our tables are these custom walnut dining sets that have movable dividers, so you might be dining next to strangers but it still feels private and personal. We also have a lot of plants and greenery everywhere, and artwork from my friends and family. 

How have you transformed a familiar atmosphere with a taste of culture?

I think when people feel comfortable in a space, that this helps break down their barriers. The design of the space itself is influenced by many different cultural ideas of comfort—spanning from Japanese, Danish hygge, and even Belgian with our linens and fabrics.

Flynn’s Favourite Comfort Food Fix…

Sweet Potato Bread (Makes 1 Loaf)

2 large sweet potatoes
1/4 cup milk
2 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 3/4 cup bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder

Method

1. Roast sweet potatoes wrapped in foil for about an hour at 350F, or until soft.
2. Scoop sweet potatoes and blend with milk, eggs, oil, vanilla.
3. Mix all dry ingredients and whisk into potato mixture in three stages until smooth (careful not to overwork the gluten).
4. Bake at 325F for 60-75 minutes.

What to Expect from this Unique Eatery…

At Gem, there are two distinct dining experiences: the “Living Room” and the “Dining Room.” The Living Room, open daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm, is an all-day café offering a selection of micro-roaster coffees, rare teas, and seasonal specialty drinks curated by Director of Coffee Elliott Foos. Guests may also enjoy a rotating assortment of house made pastries and snacks like Semolina Apple Bundt Cake; Caramelized White Chocolate Blondies; and Blueberry Violet Muffins.

The adjoining Dining Room, open Tuesday through Saturday, offers a $155 per person (inclusive of gratuity) multi-course tasting menu, with seatings at 6:00pm and 9:00pm for up to 18 guests. Guests may also opt for a $100 per person beverage pairing. The interactive experience is a reflection of an intimate dinner party among friends: guests begin in the Living Room with a glass of champagne and snacks, then move into the Dining Room where they will be seated to enjoy the remainder of the menu—a mix of small plates, shared family-style dishes, and desserts.

A clear view of the kitchen allows guests to watch McGarry and his culinary team at work from every seat. Guests are also given the option to enjoy an after-dinner drink back in the Living Room. Upon opening, menu highlights include King Crab with leeks, grapefruit, and rose; New Potatoes cooked in yogurt with mussels and hazelnuts; Pumpkin Char Siu with koji and lime; and the “Lamb Feast,” a series of shared plates including Lamb Loin with vadouvan bagna cauda; Lamb Shank braised with warm spices and apple cider; Grilled Sunchokes with sunflower seed and chili salsa; and a simple, palate-cleansing Bitter Green Salad. Two of McGarry’s signature dishes—a peanut “Ritz” cracker-inspired snack with foie gras, as well as Aged Beet served with its greens and bordelaise—will be menu mainstays.
 
General Manager and Wine Director Quinn McCann, an alum of Eleven Madison Park and Betony, built a beverage program that predominantly features wines from France, Germany, Austria, and the United States, in addition to an ever-evolving collection of more unique bottles. Sake, East Coast beers, and ciders are also available.
 
The restaurant’s name, which is McGarry’s mother’s name “Meg” spelled backwards, also nods to it being a neighborhood gem of sorts. It is located on a modest street tucked between a local barber shop and a residential building – but inside the 1,000 square foot space, Gem boasts a welcoming, home-like atmosphere intended to evoke a similar setting to the original supper club dinners McGarry ran out of his childhood home in San Fernando Valley, California. The design was a collaboration between McGarry and friend and interior designer, Brett Robinson.

The Living Room features simple design elements including a vintage Persian rug, and an upholstered banquette with a row of asymmetrical steel tables (designed by Robinson) that pair with wooden chairs from Charles Eames. In the Dining Room, the island-style open kitchen anchors three different seating areas complete with Josef Hoffmann armchairs and custom walnut dining sets of banquettes, table tops, and dividers (all handmade by a local artisan in Philmont, New York). Overall, the spaces are set with warm and natural tones and are decorated throughout with potted plants and varied floral arrangements. Rotating artwork from friends and local artists hang on the walls.
 
Flynn McGarry’s instinctive talent, diverse experience, and unwavering ambition has gained him widespread notoriety and the support from inspirational chefs all over the world. At 13-years-old, he took an apprenticeship at Ray’s and Stark Bar at LACMA under chef Kris Morningstar, then later went on to stage at Michelin-starred restaurants like Eleven Madison Park and Alinea in the United States, as well as Maemo in Oslo, and Geranium in Copenhagen. He was the subject of a New Yorker “Talk of the Town” piece; featured on the cover of the New York Times Magazine’s Food & Drink issue; became the youngest honoree on Zagat Los Angeles’ “30 Under 30” list; and was named one of the “Top 25 Most Influential Teens” by TIME magazine.
 
Where to Experience Gem…

Gem is located at 116 Forsyth Street, between Delancey and Broome Streets, in New York City.  The Living Room is open daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm, and the Dining Room is open Tuesday through Saturday, with seatings at 6:00pm and 9:00pm. Reservations are required and can be made via Tock. For more information, visit gem-nyc.com. Follow Flynn @diningwithflynn.

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Inga Yandell
Explorer and photo-journalist, passionate about nature, culture and travel. Combining science and conservation with investigative journalism to provide educational resources and a platform for science exploration.
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