James Beard Award-winning chef Matt Molina stunned the Los Angeles restaurant world, his family and even his boss, Nancy Silverton, when he announced Saturday he was leaving his job as the Executive Chef of Mozza to chase his dream of becoming a professional race car driver.
"Matt is like the George Washington of the Mozza kitchen," said Silverton shortly after hearing Molina was moving one. "I'm stunned he is leaving. Especially to race cars."
Within one hour of the news, Team McLaren announced that Molina, who has been secretly testing road and race cars, had signed a seven-figure contract to be the chief test driver for the esteemed British automobile manufacturer. McLaren founder Ron Dennis said it was "with profound relief I can finally let the world know it was Matt Molina behind the wheel when the McLaren P1 recently lapped the Nordschilfe at the Nurgurging in under seven minutes."
It had been assumed that McLaren test pilot Chis Goodwin had been driving the P1 during this stunning lap. Check out the video of Molina in the P1 at the Nordschilfe; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9IWiTpWeiM
Molina had been hinting he would leave to race cars for months. The San Gabriel Valley native who won the James Bead Award for Outstanding Chef in the Pacific region in 2012 ( http://www.grubstreet.com/2012/05/matt-molina-james-beard-award-mozza.html) was often seen wearing a golf cap with the letter "M" on it, but most thought it meant for either "Matt" or "Molina", It is now known it symbolized McLaren.
It was a 2014 trip to Las Vegas to celebrate the birthday of his friend Adam Levine that really charged Molina when he got to drive an Aston Martin Vanquish S at a local track. "Matty was really happy when he came back from that racing weekend," said former Osteria Mozza sous chef Chris Feldmeier. ."If I'm not mistaken, I think he even asked me how my children were doing. I don't have any kids, but, still."
News that Molina, who worked with Silverton at Campanile, was leaving stunned the Mozza family.
In New York City, Mario Batali, who gave Molina his nickname "Ponce" because of his uncanny ability to get lost in Italy, wished him well.
"i have known Ponce for 20 years and have driven long on the golf course and slowly on the 405 with him and he is truly great at both, but his true metier is in the saute pan,"
Batali added he expected Mclaren's arch rival to try to lure Molina away..
"i wish him the best of luck with the McLaren team, but do not be surprised if the Ferrari team comes knocking," Batali said. "Matt's heart, his palate and his engine are forged of steel and titanium near Modena in Emilia Romagna."
In Los Angeles, there was sadness.
"I am saddened and shocked," said Kate Green, Silverton's assistant. "Hey, let me ask you something. Do you know if I will still be able to get free food with Matty gone?"
Silverton had little to say.
"It's really sad Matty is leaving," said Silverton. "Like I mentioned, the strange thing to me is his new job, racing cars. Every time I've ever been in his car, he drove like an old lady."
Still, she praised her chef who opened Pizzeria Mozza in 2006 and Osteria Mozza months later. "Matty will always be part of the Mozza family."
Liz "Go Go" Hong, formerly the chef at Pizzeria Mozza will move over to the Osteria Mozza as executive chef.
Molina has not ruled out a return to cooking and opening his own restaurant.
"The race season lasts only eight months," said Molina as he enjoyed a smoked short rib at Odysseus and Penelope on La Brea. "I'll have to do something during the other four."
A sources close to Molina said he would either open a restaurant or join the PGA Tour. Another source said Molina has been offered a job as the private cook for the Tips For Jesus guy
*For the 2015 season McLaren has already signed Fernando Alonzo and Jenson Button as their Formula One drivers, however Molina is expected to replace either one if they falter