Pulling up to South Pond Farms in Pontypool, Ontario, it’s easy to find yourself short of breath. The rolling hills, the soft yellow grasses swaying in the wind – it’s what magical Ontario afternoons are made of. In the distance, you can hear a rooster crow and the comforting buzz of a thousand honey bees going about their daily chores.
This is where all chefs dream they’ll one day end up – surrounded by rows of vegetables, edible flowers and flocks of turkeys waiting for their afternoon snacks – but for Chef Neale Aziz, it wasn’t a straight path. He didn’t know this is what he wanted.
“I grew up in the area, but it took me coming back to realize just how amazing this place is,” says Neale.
“When I moved back here – I worked in Kingston for a while – I was so surprised by the sheer amount of good farmers and good food you could get in the area. We had, like, 2 or 3 great farmers near Kingston, here there are dozens.”
“I think my food is a product of the produce we get. It’s hard for me to pinpoint it because I’ve had so many influences. Classic French, Lebanese, North African – I pull from all of it,” says Neale when asked about his cooking style.
This roasted Delicata Squash with macerated kale, toasted Ontario hazelnuts and a fermented tomato vinaigrette is Chef Neale’s favorite thing on the menu right now, but it’s only available for a short time because the ingredients are fleeting.
Neale’s kitchen at South Pond Farms is not your typical restaurant kitchen. He shares it with Dylan Smith, South Pond’s baker at large and the man responsible for their (very popular!) sourdough. It’s half inside, half outside. The walk-in has a barn board door. Outside one of the windows (there are so many windows!), a couple of hens sit on the ledge, enjoying the afternoon sun. Meanwhile, smells from the fire pit outside waft in with the autumn breeze.
“I just got a refractometer!” he tells us with a glint in his eye. For those of you unfamiliar, a refractometer measures the sugar content of a solution via the refraction of light.
We tried a few of Neale’s fermented creations: pearly white Tokyo turnips with homegrown garlic, supremely floral carrots laced with a hint of lemongrass, blush coloured cauliflower with beets. All different, all delicious.
“I’ve been trying to find ways of preserving what we grow here, stretch out the season a little. Fermentation always feels like an experiment, but it’s important to get it right.
The farm is as much an event space as it is a restaurant. You’ll find hoop houses and goat pens interspersed with cedar groves and spots for reflection.
Chef Neale Aziz is a great match for the holistic and very specific vision founder Danielle French has in mind for the property. She wants people to realize how special coming together on a farm for a meal can be.
“I love working for Danielle. She pushes me to be better, and her idea for what this place should be is exciting. I like that every meal is essentially an event – we’re cooking for a set amount of people, there’s very little waste and lots of room to try new things.”
The model at South Pond Farms lets him explore food and be creative in ways the confines of a traditional restaurant couldn’t. It shows on the plate. His food is rustic yet refined. Delicate, complex yet of the earth. The kind of food a farmer would serve at life’s most special moments.
South Pond Farms is located at 31020 Gray Road in Pontypool, Ontario.
They’re open for events and workshops in the colder months.
Come summer, they host lunch on the farm Wednesday through Sunday.