Chef, father, celebrity—and not necessarily in that order, depending upon the day—this California native brings a vibrant and unique role to the kitchen. From an early age, Chef Ryan Scott knew his path would lead him into a world of culinary creativity.
I am three minutes late. Parking in San Francisco is a challenge, to put it respectfully, and as I walk into Bruno’s, a historic landmark venue nestled in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District, I bump into the photographer for the day’s shoot. Ryan stepped out to run some errands, he tells me. I find out, soon enough, that Chef Ryan Scott counts his days in seconds—and a three-minute window means one more opportunity to get something done.
Right behind me, Ryan walks into Bruno’s with a cardboard box weighted against his chest, nearly unfolding in his arms. His eyes peek over the top of a carton of buttermilk and columns of cheese for the day’s orders, along with a Costco-sized bag of gummy bears and printer paper. Bruno’s provides a location from which he runs his catering kitchen, allowing him the ease of access without a storefront to maintain.
What I expect from this well-known chef, TV culinary heavy-weight, and dynamic personality is a raised eyebrow and my defeat. But all he does is put down his wares on a nearby table, smiles, and shakes my hand with vigor.
“So, where do we start?” he asks.
And we are off to the races.
Back in the shadows of Bruno’s on this early winter morning where Ryan runs his 11-year-old catering company, Ryan Scott 2 Go, steam rises and a golden light continues to flicker awake. Two figures move around the warm wafting air of the small kitchen, their voices carrying into the soft corners of the nightclub, rugged with the weekend’s residue. Ryan shifts and tells me that if he is going to tell his story, he wants to tell the truth, not a version of the truth edited for TV—but the one that he wakes up to and lives every day.
“This lifestyle is hard—but rewarding. I believe most chefs will tell you that. There are parts, the job aspect of it, that are a grind. You will trust people you shouldn’t and find out the hard way, you will learn the depth of your humility and grace, and while you will feel prepared, there will always be hurdles every step of the way. But if being a chef and an entrepreneur is built into your DNA, it will be worth it. This company keeps the bills paid and the rent coming in by removing the overhead of what a front-of-the-house operation and a storefront would potentially create. This way the food gets our attention. It is true though; I live to work, and I work to live—but it is not a job when it is your passion. I get to choose this life everyday,” Ryan smiles and says, slipping around the back corner of the kitchen to start up the grill.
“Catering companies don’t have a face. But don’t knock them. The cost of goods is going up, as well as labor and packaging—the demand on growers and farmers and their margins is impacting the way we address the market. You have to adapt,” Ryan adds. “Some people romanticize or glamorize the life of a chef, restaurant owner, or TV personality, but we still have to pay the bills. It is not easy, and if you are not ready to know and understand every single aspect of this business, do not get into it. I am the kind of person that needs to be involved. All the emails come directly to me; I am the operations department; I do the books, the payroll, run the errands...and I will continue to do that, for my team and for my family.”
“I live to work, and I work to live—but it is not a job when it is your passion.”
- Ryan Scott, Chef and Entrepreneur, Ryan Scott Enterprises
Ryan is also the owner of Boom Chicka Cow and a new delivery-only burger/chicken/vegan burger concept (lunch, and dinner) and beer/milkshake spot named Sweets. He’s also a partner in Finn Town and numerous other ventures in the greater San Francisco area. With more ambitious projects on the horizon, from a Mexican concept to a multi-menu venture under a single roof, Ryan’s errands might demand a few more copies of himself. But, he will deal with that when the “opportunity” arises, as he tells me. Word choice is key for Ryan. You choose your outlook on cooking and life, he shares.
For someone that travels, at times, 250 days of the year and works six-and-a-half days a week, it is a wonder that Ryan can even see straight—let alone, have his hands in every level of his brand and his operations from the ground up.
But, Ryan’s passion does not just carry through the events and the activities that take place between the prep and the plate; just as important, Ryan is driven by a need to understand the supply chain from the ground to the grill—a notion which deepens his love for the California and American regional cuisine he creates.
“We are lucky to have so many artisans, growers, and farms here in our backyard in California,” he says. “Not only does the pantry stay fully stocked with the most amazing quality items on the West Coast, but the seasons create an ever-changing revolving door of variety for our plates. I enjoy working directly with growers and food companies to build our menus and discover the potential of the dishes we put in front of our customers.”
Take Ryan’s recent work with California Strawberries. Ryan is partnering with California Strawberries between April and August, creating five unique strawberry snacks. All snacks will be shared on Ryan’s Instagram as well as on California Strawberries’ Facebook page and website. The fresh produce lover is sure to shape the plate of many strawberry lovers out there. So, keep your eyes peeled.
And it is not just strawberries. As Ryan looks to connect more and more with the source of his ingredients, he is seeking out producers from all aspects of the produce spread, from avocados and lettuce to artichokes and onions. Their stories inform his own, and he loves the way that food not only tells a story but can help others create theirs as well.
“You never know what can happen over a plate of good food. From one meal, you could help a couple spawn a child, cultivate a relationship...maybe a divorce,” he laughs. “Food touches people. It is momentous, has memories, builds memories.”
Ryan’s vision of food articulates balance. A burger is not just a burger. A salad is not just a salad. A tomato must be laid and sliced in a specific way. The ratio of onions to ingredients must be precise. The seasonings must be more than a second thought. They must be a thought investment. Maybe this is what makes a chef a chef. The art is in the details. But, Ryan also knows that the person behind the creation counts, and this means something to him. And he has found his people.
Ryan’s right hand, Vanessa Sanchez, has been with him for 10 years now, beginning as a dishwasher who voiced her love for cooking. A voice which took her to Ryan’s catering business, a voice that, even now in the early morning hours, lights up the phone lines for lunch. She shyly ducks behind the scenes, but Ryan refuses to let her work in his shadow.
“Please, call me Ryan,” he says when I ask him if he would like to go by Chef Scott, “because these ladies are the real chefs.”
Vanessa plays Tetris on a countertop with Ryan’s supplies and speaks quietly to another woman, intently focused on the day’s menu. Anna Delgado, a new addition to the seasoned team, brings one and a half years with Ryan to this small nook of a kitchen where the company turns over an average of 1.5 to 2 million dollars in revenue each year.
“We are a family here, and I rely on Vanessa and Anna for their incredible talent and dedication, as well as their care and heart for what we do,” Ryan reflects. “We share the same drive, and after carrying a passion like this inside me for a lifetime, I can spot it anywhere.”
Staying the Course
He really does mean a lifetime. At nine, instead of watching Power Rangers, Ryan was running home to watch great chefs, like Martin Yan, on TV.
“On my ninth birthday, I asked for a food dehydrator, a wok on my tenth birthday, and when I was 11 or 12, I told my parents that I wanted to go to culinary school—if that tells you anything. My dad was a Raley’s Produce Manager growing up, so cherry tomatoes, scallions, kumquats, leeks, and different varieties of potatoes were what was cool to me. I have been studying to be a chef and working professionally since I was 18, so I guess this is all I have ever known,” he muses.
Ryan’s beginnings are rooted in California, a state I do not believe he could imagine leaving. His family lived paycheck to paycheck for much of his childhood, and so he learned from an early age the value in a meal. He was raised in Modesto and Oakhurst, and when the family’s situation appeared it would hit harder times if a change was not made, they leveraged their house, put it up for collateral, and moved to Los Banos to open a restaurant. Though his parents’ marriage soon saw its end, and the presence of food and the industry that Ryan loves played a part in that, he tells me that through those times—both good and bad—food has remained a constant and telling teacher.
“Food touches people. It is momentous, has memories, builds memories.”
Cooking became a refuge for Ryan and also a source of joy. I believe we all find our way in the world in different ways, and Ryan found his through cooking. He made the table a place where his creativity thrived.
“But, let’s not reinvent the wheel,” he laughs. “Let us just be smarter and more attentive to how we do it. What we put on the plate matters.”
Every line he speaks is like its own individual story, and before I have accumulated the history of each, before I even assume a punchline might be coming, he is onto the next. Truly this is how the events of his life seem to shake out, a controlled creative chaos where he sits—in the eye of the storm.
As you can tell, Ryan has come a long way since his days in Modesto, Oakhurst, and Los Banos, and he has been far from a passive participant in his own journey. Ryan graduated from the California Culinary Academy, and after completing an externship with Reno, Nevada’s, Ferrari Carano family, and apprenticed under such chefs as Charlie Trotter, Alan Wong, Peter Merriman, and Suzanne Goin, he found himself settling in San Francisco in late 2001. There he would obtain a degree in Baking, Pastry, and Wedding Cake Design. Ryan joined the ranks of the lauded Restaurant Gary Danko, where he remained for four years before moving on to Myth Café, which was named a “Top Dining Destination” by San Francisco Magazine during his tenure. Ryan also brought national recognition to Mission Beach Café by way of Bravo TV’s Top Chef, where he is now a frequent guest. The chef has also spent time as a brand ambassador for Healthy Choice.
Ryan’s life is not a story of numbers, but if I could throw a few at you, he has over 150 regular guest appearances on NBC’s The Today Show, over 40 appearances on the Rachael Ray Show, and has been a frequent special guest on Spike TV’s Bar Rescue. Ryan is a two-time Emmy Award-winning host of Food Rush on ABC’s Live Well Network and currently hosts the nationally syndicated Ryan Scott Show on KGO 810 in his spare time, which he has done for over five years alongside superstar guests Pat Monahan, Jon Taffer, Rachel Ray, and Richard Blais.
Ryan published his first cookbook, ONE TO FIVE: One Shortcut Recipe Transformed into Five Easy Dishes in 2016, with a foreword written by his good friend Rachael Ray. The chef is currently wrapping up his second book coming this year—fingers crossed.
So what grounds this intrepid traveler and culinary storyteller? Ryan’s wife Lesley, his new daughter Olive, and his two dogs, Pumpkin and Teddy.
“Everything changed after Olive,” he says, “...the way I experience time, what comfort means to me—all of it. Now, I get to cook for her. I get to help her experience the world through food and put these little bits of life in her hands. She makes food more vibrant and more exciting than I could ever have known this experience could.”
Ryan settles into a chair, scratches the back of his head and smiles.
“It comes full circle, doesn’t it?”
Yes, yes it does.