Matt Molina, who helped build the white-hot Mozza restaurant empire with Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, has left the kitchen.
Molina was chef de cuisine for both the pizzeria and the osteria from the time they opened in 2007, and helped run the kitchen supporting Chi Spacca. In 2008, he was nominated for "Rising Star Chef" and "Best New Restaurant" awards by the James Beard Foundation and he was named the best chef for the Pacific coast in 2012.
He has been replaced by Elizabeth Hong, who had been running the pizzeria kitchen. Hong is part of Los Angeles restaurant royalty; her mother, Jenee Kim, owns the beloved Park's BBQ in Koreatown.
Molina said the decision to leave was his and that he was going to take some time off to explore different options.
"At a certain point, everyone kind of grows up and change is good," Molina said. "Any time you leave something that you've started, you want to let it settle a little bit before moving on to something else. I'll be meeting with different individuals and seeing what's out there.
"Sometimes you just feel like you want to be out and see if you can do something on your own," he said. "That's a new challenge -- seeing if there's anywhere else in the city where you could make a difference."
Silverton could not be reached for comment as she is busy with an illness in the family. Molina had worked with Silverton and her then-husband Mark Peel at Campanile, then had joined Silverton at Mozza as one of her first key hires.
"He's not only a good cook, but he can lead a kitchen, and that's something rarer," Silverton had said of Molina at that time. "The way a 29-year-old kid can not only command respect but have older, sometimes more experienced, cooks listen to him, that's not something you find very often."
Molina, now 36, says working for Silverton and Batali's and Bastianich's B&B Hospitality Group was like getting a PhD in restaurant management.
"If you're really serious about restaurants and really serious about how they operate, the B&B Group has a really great infrastructure," he said. "I was able to learn so much. They love to run businesses and make them work. That has been just invaluable, such a great experience. And I'm thankful for that."