Ryan Emerson Sitko loved Swedish synthpop, Harry Potter movies and cooking the perfect artichoke. The 23-year-old came to San Francisco right out of the Culinary Institute of America in New York after graduating last February. After four months as a line cook at RN74 restaurant, owned by famous chef Michel Mina, he became the full-time lead cook at Local: Mission Eatery on 24th Street.
“It takes a special person to be a cook to begin with,” said Yaron Milgrom, the owner of Local: Mission Eatery. Hours are long, pay is low and the work is physically demanding. Sitko was always on time, said Milgrom, and invariably pleasant.
When Sitko failed to show up to work this Monday, his coworkers quickly realized something was wrong. They called every emergency room in San Francisco, with no success. Eventually, a Google search yielded Sitko’s Facebook profile. “People were writing ‘Rest in Peace’ on his wall,” said Milgrom.
The story came out. The previous night, Sitko was riding home at 1:40 a.m. when he lost control of his motorbike on Judah Street and struck the center median at 39th Avenue, police reported. Sitko flipped over and struck the ground, the force of the impact sending him sliding under a parked car. Drivers nearby called paramedics, but when they arrived it was already too late. Sitko was pronounced dead on the scene.
Those who knew him are struggling to come to terms with the suddenness of his death. “The 14 — now 13 — employees are not only the moving parts but also the bloodline of this restaurant. In Ryan’s death, in our shared ephemerality, we are reminded in the harshest way,” Milgrom wrote earlier this week.
Sitko’s funeral will be held by his parents, Neil and Kim Sitko, in Rochester Hills, Michigan, on Wednesday, June 1. Local: Mission Eatery’s sous chef, Andy Henderson, is flying out to represent the restaurant’s staff.
To his family, Sitko was a fun-loving practical joker who, after learning the basics on a Boy Scout camping trip, became extremely serious about one thing: cooking. “He cooked for the whole family,” Neil Sitko said. At the time of his death, Sitko was excitedly trying to arrange a trip to the celebrity chef-filled Food and Wine Classic in Aspen, Colorado.
His family last saw him in March, when they all met up in California. “I remember him blowing down the hills of Lake Tahoe on his snowboard,” said Neil Sitko. “That was the last time I saw him.”
“We’ll remember him,” he added.