Possums, we don’t mean to hen-piccata Ryan Scott to death, but really, we can’t help ourselves, since, in trying to paint himself as a boy wonder, boy does he ever make us wonder.
After hearing Ryan boast on the season’s first episode, “I grew up in restaurants, and my parents signed the waiver for me to be able to work in restaurants….At 11, I jumped on the line with my father, and my dad fired two people after the first two or three weeks because I outcooked them at 11,” something didn’t seem quite kosher to us.
Was Ryan, er, breading the story, or had he just accused his father of blatant violations of California child-labor laws?
Part of our confusion stemmed from the fact that the soi-disant wunderkind seemed to be presenting two different narrative strands, Little Lord Fauntleroy of KQED vs. hardscrabble kitchen rat.
In the one, he is the precocious child who happens to have an almost innate love of, and talent for, cooking. To wit:
From Ryan’s Bravo bio: “Ryan zeroed in on his desire to be a chef at the early age of nine when the ‘toys’ at the top of his Christmas list included kitchen utensils, a wok and food dehydrator.”
Aw, ain’t that sweet?
From Ryan’s Bravo video: “I got into cooking from my parents. When I was younger I showed inspiration to cook, so they went ahead and ran with it, went ahead and bought me a wok and a food dehydrator when I was younger. Watching Jacques Pépin and Martin Yan was really stimulating for me as a young child.”
Aw, Lord love PBS!
From an article in The ImModesto Bee: “As a grade-schooler, he would cook his family crazy concoctions, like sloppy chili melts and herb experiments from the garden. Still, no matter the outcome, they supported him and ate his creations.”
Aw, ain’t parents grand?
But wait, at 11 isn’t one a grade-schooler? And if he was making sloppy chili melts and herb experiments at that age, just how proficient was he really when he got those two poor saps fired?
It seems a bit at odds with the impression he tries to give on the show that he grew up in restaurants.
The Bee article says only, “The journey from 10-year-old messing around in the family kitchen to one of the nation's rising culinary stars took Scott across the country. While he still was in elementary school, Scott's family briefly owned a Chubby's restaurant franchise. Then while in high school, the 1999 Los Banos High graduate began working at the Country Waffles breakfast chain.”
Mind you, no mention of being an 11-year-old line cook. And how does the fact that your family “briefly owned a Chubby’s restaurant franchise” while you were in elementary school translate into your having grown up in restaurants?
So did he, or didn’t he? Hard to tell from the available evidence. If he did, it seems plausible that it was at the Chubby’s where he became an 11-year-old line cook.
But if he did, what about the legal issues?
We called upon our dear friend, the lovely, acidic Miss Upton Sinclairol, to see if she could cut through the gnocchi-dense thicket of legal issues. She followed the trail of breadcrumbs and brought us the following information.
The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement of the California Department of Industrial Relations puts out a pamphlet explaining the basics of child-labor laws in California, and which, citing to California Labor Code section 1294.1, states in relevant part that “Minors under 16 MAY NOT be employed or permitted to work in the following occupations in…food service…: Cooking (except at soda fountains, lunch counters, snack bars, or cafeteria serving counters where such cooking is performed in plain sight of customers and is not the minor's only duty); Baking….”
That rather makes it sound like 11-year-old Ryan’s jumping on the line with his father was a prima facie violation of Section 1294.1. Indeed, pursuant to Labor Code section 1294.3(a), you have to be at least 14 years old before you are allowed to perform kitchen work and use “dishwashers, toasters, dumbwaiters, popcorn poppers, milkshake blenders, and coffee grinders.” That sounds like the sort of thing that Ryan’s parents would have “signed the waiver” for (or the job at Country Waffles that the Bee mentions).
Ryan said that his father fired two line cooks “after the first two or three weeks,” which suggests that 11-year-old Ryan was cooking on the line for at least two or three weeks. Labor Code section 1288(a) makes violation of Section 1294.1 a “Class ‘A’ violation” that is “subject to a civil penalty in an amount not less than five thousand dollars ($5,000) and not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000) for each and every violation. Willful or repeated violations shall receive higher civil penalties than those imposed for comparable nonwillful or first violations, not to exceed ten thousand dollars ($10,000).” (emphasis added). Furthermore, Section 1288(c) states that criminal penalties may also be imposed. Ryan, Ryan, Ryan—is that really the kind of trouble you would have wanted to get your daddy into?
In the end, though, possums, we don’t have any definite answers. The current version of the law came into effect in 1993, when Ryan would have been a little older than 11. So it’s conceivable (if extremely unlikely) that prior to 1993, California, the most liberal state in the nation where labor laws are concerned, would have allowed 11-year-olds to serve as line cooks. All we have is a tantalizing question: did the man who used to head Myth Café take the restaurant’s name to heart?