Food and wine sit at the heart of Italian culture. Sure, you could add music and art to the list, but whereas not all Italians are musical or artistic, it’s hard to find an Italian who doesn’t care about what they are eating and drinking - where it comes from, how it’s made and whether it is as good as their mother’s.
Anyone who knows Italy well will know that there is no such thing as ‘Italian food’. The states of the Italian Peninsula didn't become unified into a single country until 1861. That’s the year the first Melbourne Cup ran. It is far more accurate to talk about regional food - la Cucina Piemontese, Toscana or Calabrese - or narrow it down further to individual cities and towns since there can be distinct variations even within the regions. For example, the famous Sicilian street food of crumbed and fried balls of rice that we know as arancini are made round like an orange in Palermo, but in Catania are cone-shaped like Mount Etna.
To grow up in an Italian family is to acquire a lifelong connection to the way your kinfolk have cultivated, prepared, preserved, and enjoyed the food and wine of the land, sea and mountains of that little part of Italy they call home.
My family has been steeped in these traditions for generations.
My paternal grandfather was a fisherman from Cannetto, a fishing village on Lipari in the Aeolian Islands, the volcanic archipelago off the north coast of Sicily. My grandmother’s family were butchers also from Lipari. My mother’s family came from Messina on the north-eastern coast of Sicily. They were among the almost quarter of a million Italians who migrated to Australia following the Second World War.
Here in Australia, my grandfather and my dad, Francesco, carried on the family tradition of fishing. They built a successful business supplying the Victorian Fish Market and suburban fish shops, and Italian restaurants.
Francesco, or Frankie as everyone called him, quickly recognised the boundless opportunities in a fast-growing Australia and started numerous enterprises importing industrial and consumer products from Italy. There were auto parts, homewares, garden furniture and agricultural equipment. He was a true entrepreneur.
His work in promoting Italian industries and the Made In Italy brand was formally recognised in 1999 when the Italian President, Carlo Ciampi, made him a Cavaliere del Lavoro, the Italian equivalent of a knighthood.
In the early 2000s, my family owned an Italian restaurant called Sabatini in Black Rock, a bayside suburb south of Melbourne. I worked there throughout my time at university, learning every aspect of hospitality and customer service. Still, the energy and artfulness of the kitchen appealed to me the most.
After completing my studies, I joined the family business full-time in 2006, and we launched Alessi Beverages, a specialist wholesaler and distributor of Italian wine and other beverages. As I frequently travelled to Italy to attend the major food and wine events and visit our producers, I realised how many fantastic, artisan-made food products were still unavailable in Australia. These were the traditional, regional specialties often made by the one family for many generations.
In 2021, we launched an online grocery store to make these products available in Australia. Our vision is to expand the range and become the leading online destination for authentic, high-quality Italian ingredients that also offer great value for money.
We toyed with many ideas for what we should call our new store, but in the end, we couldn’t think of a name more fitting or deserving than Frankie in honour of my Dad and his love of Italy that continues to inspire my team and me.