Stocked with a collection of international chiles, three kinds of flour and cookbooks filled with handwritten notes
When she was eleven years old, Giovanna Alonzi thought she was coming to Canada for a vacation. Little did she know that her voyage away from the balmy beaches of southern Italy would be a little more permanent. What Alonzi, now the executive chef at Sud Forno and Spaccio, thought was a holiday was actually a full-on immigration—32 years later, her entire family is still here (along with some new additions).
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Much like her move to Canada, Alonzi didn’t plan on becoming a chef. “In 2001, halfway through a degree in English literature, I spent a summer backpacking in Nova Scotia. I blew all of my tuition money. When I got back, I was desperate for a job,” she says. “I saw an ad in my parents’ Italian newspaper for a job at the original Terroni location on Queen.” Alonzi knew she could cook, so she phoned them up and spoke Italian on the call. “They hired me right away.”
“My first job there was to grill peppers for the older Sicilian lady who made the pizzas,” she says. “At that point, they barely had a kitchen.” But, over the course of 22 years at the ever-expanding Italian spot, Alonzi fell into a career as a chef, an occupation that kept her connected to her culture. Now, as the only active woman chef in the whole Terroni group, she develops all of the menus and culinary programs for a long list of locations: Spaccio, Spaccio West, Sud Forno Temperance and Sud Forno Queen.
A quick peek inside her fridge makes it obvious that she brings her kitchen-management skills home with her. Every Sunday, she and her husband, Fabio Moro (also a Terroni chef), decide on a loose menu for the week. “We don’t like to fight in our home kitchen, so I do the meal planning and he usually does the execution.”
There are a few items that almost always make the weekly menu, including at least one variety of stock. “We either drink it or pack it for my kids to have at school with a little bit of miso, ramen or pastina.” There’s usually a “fridge-cleaning soup,” featuring a chosen legume along with vegetable odds and ends. Moro also bakes a weekly bread using their household mother yeast. “My kids call it the father yeast,” says Alonzi. Spare loaves are kept in the freezer for later.
Their typical grocery haul leans Italian, with a healthy assortment of meats, cheeses and carbs. “I like to shop for produce at the small grocers of Bloor West and Fiesta Farms, but my favourite store—besides Sud Forno—is Cataldi, which is just north of the city,” says Alonzi. Meats for this week include Angus beef cutlets, to be breaded, fried and stuffed between Moro’s homemade rolls for the kids’ sandwiches, and veal, which they pan-fry with olive oil, garlic and rosemary for straccetti, a family favourite. Alonzi serves it over arugula with shaved parmigiano reggiano (another fridge staple) and a balsamic reduction.
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At first glance, the pantry—stocked with high-quality canned tomatoes, Calabrian chilies, cans of tuna and bottles of olive oil—may seem like your basic Italian cook’s cupboard. But a closer look reveals some hidden gems, including Alonzi’s home-grown grapes (picked off the vine in her backyard and cured) and Moro’s pickled garden zucchini.
Alonzi is a heat seeker, so the spice drawer holds a hefty collection of chilies from around the world. “I have this bag of chilies that I picked up in Japan last spring,” she says. “I can’t find them here. Luckily, my best friend, who is Calabrian, buys me similar ones, so I’m able to get my fix. Their name roughly translates to ‘bewitched peppers.’”
Another item hoarded in Alonzi’s household is flour. “Fabio is very particular about which flour gets used for what.” Right now, they’ve got Caputo Manitoba Oro (for round pizzas, which Moro makes in their Ooni oven), Paolo Mariani Le Favolose Dolci (a finely milled flour they use for pastries) and Manitaly (for bread and tray pizzas). They usually hold on to one less-fancy option for all-purpose baking. “That’s the one that I force my kids to use for cake, which they make with any apples left over from their school lunches.”
Aside from the compulsory upcycling, Alonzi’s 13-year-old and 9-year-old enjoy cooking with her—pasta is one of their favourite things to make. “For our weekly Sunday dinners, I take out the rolling pin that my mother-in-law brought back from Italy, and the kids use the pasta machine,” says Alonzi. “We race to see who can roll out the pasta faster. I always win.”
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Alonzi’s kitchen is also home to a collection of cookbooks that fuels the family passion. “I like to read traditional Italian cookbooks by authors like Luca Montersino as well as more contemporary ones about cuisines I know little about. I have one by Sean Sherman, who’s an Indigenous chef. Cooking is all about exploration. Just leafing through them keeps me on my toes.” As Alonzi flips the pages, a series of handwritten notes and diagrams falls to the floor.
The household takes their culinary craft seriously—but not too seriously to have some fun with it. “We’re always entertaining. Our friends come in and out of our home for wine, cocktails and meals whenever they like. We have an open-door policy.” While Alonzi’s favourite licorice liqueur, or liquore alla liquirizia, is most often sipped with friends, she currently has only one tiny bottle from her last trip to Italy, so she’s no longer sharing. “My friends know that, when there’s only a little bit left, it’s all for me.”
Alonzi and Moro like to flex their green thumbs in an impressively verdant garden. In the summer months, it’s full of concord grape vines; abnormally large zucchinis; and cherry, hothouse and vine tomatoes. While the backyard oasis is not exactly Italy, it certainly doesn’t feel like Geary Avenue is just around the corner.