At BlogBOQ, we like to surround ourselves with not only badass culinary snipers, but also people who are just simply good humans period.
Albert Ponzo is one of them. Our boy, Chef Matthew Demille linked us up with him while we were gearing up for the Tastemaker tour earlier this month. We shot Albert a message and without hesitation, he agreed to meet with us to chat.
So, who is this guy?
Chef Ponzo was the brains behind the menu at Le Select, one of Toronto’s go-to restaurants for bistro style eats that focuses heavily on sustainable farming practices and sourcing food as direct as possible. That practice is not lost on Ponzo, since he really sees no other way to cook or to run a restaurant. We will see more of that in the much anticipated opening of The Royal Hotel in Picton where Ponzo will be the chef at the restaurant there.
He made a name for himself in Toronto, but I had to ask, how did he end up in the BOQ, specifically, Prince Edward County?
“Well, I came to PEC about 15 years ago on a first date with Marlise, who is now wife. So, it started off as a special place for me. We returned many times afterwards, and over the years, I brought my children and continued to make more fabulous memories.”
So, when you used to come here as a visitor, where did you eat and what did you think of the restaurants here?
“Oh man, I loved the food and really got inspired by what I saw and tasted. We also had this tradition every time we came [to the BOQ]. As soon as we got off the 401 and entered the border of Trenton and PEC, there was this food truck called, “Tabersnack” and we would get a burger and maybe a poutine to kick off our visit. Best burger ever!”
What’s your game plan for the Royal Hotel’s menu?
“Well, it’s very local, or I guess I would use the term, farm-to-table. We have a program established with Edwin County Farms, which is owned by Greg and Kate Sorbara and their family and is currently being overseen by Greg’s son Nic who is working closely with myself as they also own The Royal. A substantial portion of our fruit and vegetables, maple syrup and meat will be coming from that farm.
I’ve been getting my inspiration from all the locals. I love hearing the stories of what brought these producers to the area or what has inspired them. To be honest, that is one of my favourite parts about living here. The area is full of super-focused people who have so much pride and sense of community. So, I’d say that when we open, people should expect not just local product, but a menu that has a story behind it based on the people that grow or produce the products we will be using.“
I’ve noticed this push in the F&B industry to have a work/life balance. Do you think you can achieve that out here more than you could have back in the city?
“Well, I’m taking this time, prior to opening, to do some of that now. It’s something that I will be striving for once we kind of dial in on the whole concept. Opening a restaurant is a big undertaking and my family knows that once we get closer to opening, dad will be back into work mode for a while, and we have all come to terms with that. We talk about it together as a family and we try to prepare our kids for the switch. It won’t be foreign to them since it’s been our life before; and thank God I have such an amazing and supportive wife who has supported me and has always kept our home running while I’ve had to, in the past, sacrifice my time for the industry. She really is the best. I’m really lucky to have her.“
So, what about you? While you have this time to prepare and get to know yourself again what makes to tick? What do you do for fun?
“I just started hunting and I love the outdoors. I was born in Toronto, but quickly moved to Alberta as a very small child. My dad was an outdoorsman. I have these memories of him coming home with game meat that he and his buddies had collected. He would give me this pretend dull plastic knife to “help him” clean the moose that he had just brought home. I love the idea of collecting your own food from nature whether it’s foraging, fishing or hunting. It’s also been a great way to bond with my two oldest boys and I look forward to that time we get to share.”
So, we know that you love PEC, but what other areas are you interested in in the BOQ?
“I am very interested in exploring Tyendinaga. I also really want to start exploring the Marmora and Centre Hastings areas up north more. There is so much around us to discover. I can’t wait.”
With all things considered, what do you think the estimated time for the opening of the restaurant at the Royal would be?
“Well, we plan to open it all at once. We are planning on being open end of summer, 2020, and we are pushing for that to be a reality, but there are so many variables with construction and development that it’s never a sure thing. That said, we are optimistic that if we can sustain our pace currently, we see no reason why it shouldn’t happen for then. But again, there are a lot of moving parts that all have to work together as one for that to happen.“
Chef Albert is super nice guy who loves life. He is genuine in his approach for making sure that he tells the story of PEC and the BOQ in his food. He wants the symbiotic relationship to be seen in the menu and showcase the people’s stories in which he sources everything. He’s not blind to the fact that he has a big task. He’s not only prepared to cook, but he is also very open to learning and is enthusiastic about the process. In fact, he looks forward to it. He is a very compassionate dude. He really embraces the community that him and his family are now a part of.
There were times in our interview that we talked about the industry as a whole and people, like me, who have moved on from it to do other things because we may have felt we weren’t strong enough to push thought the hard times. The one thing Albert said that stood out to me in this interview was this:
“It’s not that people are not strong enough. Maybe you didn’t have the tools at that time to understand where you could get that strength from. That does not make you weak or less valuable. It makes you human. Life is one of those things where we all learn about ourselves at different times and that’s ok.”
So, if you see Albert the sweetheart out and about, say hi. Welcome him. We are lucky to have a such a good dude that also happens to be a passionate chef.
We can’t wait to see, taste and savour the stories that Chef Albert Ponzo will tell on a plate.