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Mozza's Matt Molina on Seasoning Ovens & San Diego

Eater recently sat down with James Beard award-winning Matt Molina, who is the executive chef of Pizzeria Mozza's four locations (Los Angeles, Singapore, Newport Beach and now, San Diego) and oversees Osteria Mozza for the restaurants' partners, Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich.

Molina spent the last month in San Diego, helping to launch Pizzeria Mozza's newest outpost in The Headquarters at Seaport District. He talked with us about getting the kitchen up to speed, his impressions of the San Diego food scene and some of his favorite local spots.

So why did the group choose San Diego for expansion, and this spot in particular?
I think we're always looking for a demographic that's up and coming. Although San Diego is highly-populated, it's still on the verge of starting to express itself on the culinary side.

The Headquarters, with their great remodel, asked us to come in to add to the draw here and its been a really good relationship so far. San Diego's a fantastic city; I never really gave it a chance much before but it's definitely on the rise.

What have the last few weeks been like?
We're all getting to know each other; the managers and the staff here had a really quick training session, about one and half weeks, to absorb seven years of what we've been doing in Los Angeles. Our style is service might be a little different than what they're used to, but they've been extremely open to the concept and the customers.

How have the kitchen and the pizza ovens been working?
It's always a process; ovens don't come broken-in, even when they say they've been seasoned, they're really not until you start lighting fires in it every day and getting the temperature set. It's like a pair of shoes, you have to break them in. The cooks have had to get used to our style of dough.

Are the pizzas you're putting out now more in line with what you do at Mozza in LA?
Absolutely, I think it's getting better by the day and everyone is getting more comfortable with the product. It's been a huge learning experience for everyone, including myself.

San Diego's menu is different in that it has the permanent entree section; will we start to see new specials rotating in?
Although we're a pizza restaurant, we'd definitely don't want to limit ourselves. A lot of the team that's here is highly qualified; we'd love to branch out into some things that you'd see at Osteria Mozza or Babbo. We'd love to utilize the ovens to their full capability like we do in Los Angeles. One thing everyone has to understand is that what we do in LA took time.

The craft beer is also new.
That's something that our beverage department is slowly welcoming into the Mozza world. Just like California produce or California-style cooking, I think San Diego has its own vernacular when it comes to beer and brewing; likewise with coffee, there's some really exciting coffee here.

After a month here, what's your impression of San Diego?
I didn't really know what San Diego had to offer before this. When I first drove into downtown, I could definitely tell that there was growth happening. People are doing cool beer and coffee projects and there's kind of like a do-it-yourself attitude. I think it's really nice to see that.

Any places that have been favorites?
Cafe Virtuoso is out of control; the baristas there are by-far some of the best I've experienced. The Lion's Share is about as good a watering hole and gastropub that you're going to find; the antelope burger there is absolutely delicious. CUCINA urbana has a very good sense of what Mediterranean/Italian food should be an I love their enoteca where you can pull wine right off the shelf. The entire feel of the places was great. And Puesto, of course, I like to stop next door for a margarita and a taco.

How would you like Mozza to fit into the local scene?
I think there's something for everyone, all ages and all occasions. It can be where you meet for a glass of wine and a small bite, a place to grab a quick pizza, or order a great steak and a huge bottle of Barolo. Plus, I can't say enough about the gelato.

Tell me about the John Stenbakken, the chef who'll be here in the San Diego kitchen full-time.
He was one of my sous chefs at Osteria Mozza and he's a fantastic cook; we made sure to bring one of our own down to San Diego.

Everyone been asking us if Mario Batali's planning on coming by.
Absolutely, I think that it's high on his list of things to do.
· Pizzeria Mozza [Official Site]

Pizzeria Mozza at The Headquarters

789 West Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101

Pizzeria Mozza

789 West Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101