Chef Ryan Scott began his culinary career inauspiciously enough.
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.
"My parents said go with it and run with it. They wholly supported me all the way," said the 28-year-old Modesto native, who grew up in Los Banos. "My parents are the backbone of my cooking career."
Scott has gone from simple kitchen experiments all the way to the potential "Top Chef" as one of 16 contestants of the new season of the popular reality show.
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He said he has brought his valley background and the love for its products with him to the show. "Living in the valley, I was surrounded by best meats, the best produce, the best dairy," he said. "I hope I represent the valley well."
The cooking competition pits up-and-coming chefs from across the country against one another, with one contestant packing up his or her knives and going home each week until only the Top Chef remains. Season four premières at 10 p.m. Wednesday on Bravo.
Last season, Oakdale chef Mia Gaines-Alt competed on the show.
Returning for the new season of "Top Chef" are host Padma Lakshmi and head judge Tom Colicchio. This cycle is set in Chicago, with contestants coming from San Francisco, New York, Atlanta and the Windy City itself.
Colicchio, chef/owner of Craft Restaurants, said the new crop of chefs is the most impressive so far.
"This is probably the best talent pool. As a whole, the talent runs a lot deeper than it has in the previous three seasons," he said. "What happens is as the seasons go on, we're getting better chefs applying. This season, you're not going to find a first-year culinary students. You're not going to find a housewife who can cook. You're going to find professionals."
Scott, who has worked everywhere from Reno to Hawaii and New York, has been the chef and manager of Myth Café in San Francisco since 2005.
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.
He entered the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. After graduating, Scott went on a culinary adventure to New York City.
"I was going to stay in New York, but things didn't work out. So I said, I am going to backpack and make a trek out of it," he said. "From that, I honestly got some of the best knowledge I've gotten in my life."
For some five months, he traveled from town to town, state to state, doing brief apprenticeships at 33 restaurants and working under established chefs. He would do everything from work the line to wash dishes and just observe, all for free.
"If you are in this business for money, you're in the wrong business. This is a labor of love," he said.
On Friday, Scott ended his time at Myth Café. He said fans of the show already are reading things into his decision to leave the restaurant. But while the season has been filmed, the show's finale and its ultimate winner have not been taped or decided yet.
"I'm taking some time off; I am really tired. I have a little bit saved up and will venture around, so people can read into it all they want, but that's why," he said.
Scott also said he is working on Ryan Scott To Go, his upcoming consulting and catering business, and starting his own restaurant. He is looking into locations and leases in the Bay Area but is open to places across California and in the valley.
"Being on 'Top Chef' is an opportunity of a lifetime. People ask, 'Why would you do it?' It's a huge opportunity to get exposure and represent who you are to the world," he said.
"This is a great steppingstone to get a restaurant of my own. What better résumé line can you get than to go do this?"
Still, Scott almost turned down his spot on season four. He had watched some of season one and most of season two. Friends even told him he should try out, but he never followed through.
Then, last year, he was contacted by the show's producers, who were casting in San Francisco. They had heard of him by reputation in the city's culinary circles. Scott made it all the way to the audition finals, but just missed the cut for that season.
So this year, when the phone rang again, Scott initially said no. But after giving it some thought, he agreed to try out again.
"It's an honor that your peers find out about you," he said. "The talent that this show brought in is the most talent I've ever been surrounded by in my life. I've never been around such great cooks ever. I was absolutely blown away."
Scott can't reveal any of the challenges or outcomes of the show before they air. But he said he made friends for a lifetime with his fellow contestants.
"That's what happens when you get 16 people who don't know each other, and a house full of booze. It was a great time, and that's where we sparked our friendships," he said. "The people I met from there I expect, if I ever get married, to be there. I made friendships that will last forever."
The competition, however, was nerve-racking.
"Having those judges watch you, from how you hold your knives to -- oh, my God -- if you drop stuff on the ground. But if you stick by your food, it'll be fine," he said.
Host Lakshmi said the challenges push the chefs to their limits.
"It's even harder than it looks on TV," she said. "It's emotional. It's physically taxing. You know, they don't get a lot of sleep. And, I mean, neither do we."
But regardless of the outcome, Scott said he hopes to represent himself well and show the country what he has to offer as a chef.
"Food is love. It's sharing a moment with people; having glass of vino, kicking back and having fun," he said. "I try not to overthink it. Hopefully, people will like me. I didn't set out on the show thinking the world would hate me. I want to have and uphold a career in this business for the next 50 years."
Bee entertainment writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2284.