The Michelin star journey of Quetzal chef Steven Molnar

Toronto’s Quetzal hit the upper echelons when it was awarded a Michelin star. The first Mexican restaurant in the city to achieve such an honour.

That Michelin moment launched a new phase in the career of chef Steven Molnar. 

Now, Michelin and Molnar are collaborating with car sharing marketplace Turo, on an exclusive limited time only experience that allows guests to book one of two eligible Drive to Table vehicles hand picked by two of Toronto’s Michelin star chefs Molnar and Rob Rossi.

 

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We interviewed Michelin starred Chef Steven Molnar about life as a chef, his creative process in creating new dishes, and the Turo x Michelin Drive to Table partnership that he’s a part of. Full interview available to read on streetsoftoronto.com.

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We caught up with the Michelin star chef of Quetzal to talk about his culinary roots, his Michelin moment and his new partnership with Turo. 

Who was the first person you told about your Michelin star? My mom. 

What is Quetzal’s most innovative feature? We only cook over fire. 

What dish of yours would your family recommend people try? My mom enjoys seafood, so on the menu right now, I’d say the whole grilled sea bream. 

Can you tell us about the moment you knew you were receiving a Michelin star—where you were, what your reaction was, and who was the first person you told? 

We didn’t find out that we were getting the Michelin star until we were at the event. 

At the inaugural event in 2022, I remember there was a period where they invited all the chefs to sit down—and there were very few chefs there. Maybe 20 seats. 

They start going through the bib gourmand category, and so far, no mention of Quetzal. 

Then, we got into the one star category. That’s when I realised that they were going in alphabetical order. This gave me a lot of anxiety because Q is further down in the alphabet.

I’m tracking the alphabet in my brain, thinking “when is Q coming up here?”. When they said Osteria Giulia is when I realised Quetzal would potentially be next. 

Excitement came over me. Next thing I saw was Quetzal’s name on the screen. Incredible feeling. The first thing I thought about was not tripping on my way up to the stage. It was a very surreal moment. 

I’m 33 years old and I’ve been working in restaurants since I was 13. The vast majority of my life has been spent in restaurants. It’s something that I’ve always worked towards: a high level of excellence and trying to offer the best experience for our guests. To receive that kind of recognition was something that truly meant a lot to me—and I was just so excited to share the news with the team. 

And who was the first person you told?

My mom. For sure, hundred percent. You know, because obviously she’s been there since day one. She’s seen all the incredible sacrifices that I’ve made throughout my life just to get to this point. Missing family events and things like that. A lot of things that chefs do. You work on weekends. You work the holidays. So to share this with her and have that moment together on the phone, it was just very, very special. I don’t remember exactly what we said. 

What inspired you to become a chef?   

Another really big inspiration for me was my grandmother, my Hungarian grandmother, my dad’s mother.She would spend an entire week preparing a meal for the family. Every Saturday we would go to her house and we would all sit down and we’d have this incredible meal. You could just tell that she put so much thought, love and care into the food that she was making for us. 

It really was a very meaningful thing for her, to have us sit down together, have conversation and have that communal vibe of sharing a meal together. That really led me into the understanding of how important a meal can be. 

My mom was a single mother of four boys. She worked super hard in her life to provide for us. Any time we would all sit down together was always a special moment. 

I started cooking for my brothers and I at a young age. Something that was really important to me was to make food that they enjoyed. When I made something they enjoyed, it was a nice feeling and became something that I wanted to continue as a profession. 

Can you describe your creative process when developing new dishes or concepts? 

One of the biggest things at Quetzal is that we only cook with fire and we don’t have any gas in the restaurant. 

We don’t have any traditional stoves or ovens. Everything we do is over an open flame, including our oven. So that’s something that really takes the focal point of how we are going to prepare this dish. 

In terms of inspiration, I always start with a singular ingredient. Something that’s in the season and then I’ll just start cooking it over the fire and see how the fire kind of accentuates the ingredient. Everything reacts differently. Everything takes on the smoke and heat in a different way. That feeling of being in tune with that product in the fire opens up a world of ideas for me. From there, I add other ingredients, a sauce, different things, tasting along the way until I start to understand what is going to accentuate the dish and make it a delicious overall plate. 

Can you tell us why you chose this specific Turo vehicle? 

CHEF: I was given a list of potential vehicles to choose from. A lot of interesting cars out there, but one really stuck out to me: the 1987 Mercedes SL 560. 

I remember growing up and my mom was always talking about this car. We would see one on the road and my mom would say, “that’s my dream car.” 

A few years ago she purchased that car for herself after working so hard in her life and doing a great job of raising us. It was a special moment for her. 

When I saw it on the list, it was a no brainer for me. A full circle moment.

Those who book the aforementioned vehicles on the Saturdays between now and Dec. 16 will unlock the Turo x Michelin Drive to Table experience, receiving not only the Turo rental, but also a Toronto itinerary made by the chef, a dinner for two at the Michelin-star restaurant that is paired with that vehicle, and a one night stay at The Hazelton—all for only $250. 

To learn more about the Turo and Michelin partnership, visit turo.com.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO