photography: Johnny C.Y. Lam
Long a proponent of sustainable, locally sourced food, Albert Ponzo brings his talent and his passion to Prince Edward County
Foraging for wild morels amongst decaying leaves along the edge of the woods and cutting nettles from the hedgerows is a far cry from the pressure cooker life that chef Albert Ponzo led for 15 years as the executive chef at one of Toronto’s best known restaurants.
In 2017, Albert, his wife Marlise and their three children moved from the city to 65 acres of fields, forest and marshland near Ameliasburgh in the County. The move was less of an escape from the city and more of an opportunity to further his under - standing of the land and its sustainability – and an opportunity to incorporate that understanding into his cuisine.
Albert Ponzo is a perfectionist, an intense but gentle man who focuses his energy on the craft he loves. His intensity fires his curiosity and it is that curiosity that drew the urban ex-pat to the County. What better place to deepen his understanding of the land and assimilate the products foraged or sourced locally, into his menus. As spring ramps up you’ll find Albert and Marlise wandering their property, hunting for morels – nuggets of mushroom gold – or filling their baskets with the prickly stinging nettles that will be the stars at Albert’s next meal.
Imagine how lucky we felt when we received an invitation to enjoy the fruits of their spring foraging. When we arrived, Albert was channeling his Italian heritage as he made fresh pasta triangoli for our luncheon – stretching the verdant pasta on the cool marble countertop, then feeding it through the stainless steel pasta roller until it became almost translucent. Marlise, a sommelier and vivacious hostess, poured us a glass of chilled Pinot Gris from The Grange of Prince Edward. Amber in colour, fresh and crisp, it paired beautifully with the pasta triangoli that was stuffed with fresh ricotta, sautéed garlic and stinging nettle purée.
What we tasted that afternoon – nettle triangoli, topped with sautéed morels and bright green asparagus and a salad of spring greens and radishes – spoke to the season. It was simply delicious.
Our lunch conversation turned to Albert’s newest endeavour. He’s working with Greg Sorbara and Sol Korngold, who are reviving The Royal Hotel in Picton, slated to open in 2020. As executive chef at The Royal Hotel, Albert will be sourcing ingredients primarily from Edwin County Farms, owned by the Sorbara family. The new restaurant at The Royal will embrace the farm-to-table philosophy and sustainability model that Albert believes are the future of the food industry.
We left Albert and Marlise Ponzo’s home, having shared food, wine and laughter in the company of two special people who are committed to their life in the County and their community.
Often considered a weed, stinging nettles are actually a source of nutrients. You can forage for them along the edges of fields and fencerows – all you need is a pair of pruning shears, a basket and protective gloves. The nettles die back in the summer heat, so make sure you try these beauties this spring.
Making the Pasta
Making the Filling
Filling the Triangoli
Putting it together (for 4 people)
Serving it up
Sources: Albert picked up the fresh buffalo ricotta at La Cultura Salumi. Many thanks to The Grange of Prince Edward Estate Winery for their Isabella Block 2016 Pinot Gris, Loyalist College for a loan of their pasta roller and the Goodwin Learning Centre for their loan of the pasta skimmer. Flowers on the table are from Quinn’s Blooms & Greenery, ceramic plates are courtesy of Caitlin O’Reilly of Cylinder Studio.