Born in Abruzzo on the Adriatic coast of Italy, Tony Sassi emigrated to Australia in his late teens. His palate was groomed in his mother's and grandmother's cucine - close to the sea with the great mountains of Abruzzo, Gran Sasso and La Miele, rising behind. Italy's fame, as is well known, is based on its 'cucina povera' – the food of the poor people – and Sassi learnt first hand how to make the most of every season's offerings and every part of an animal fattened for the family. Apples were stored in the attic for winter, becoming slightly shrivelled and sweet, sausages were made in preparation also for winter treats and served with fried 'sweet' chillies that had been hung to dry since summer. Bread was baked every morning and pasta prepared fresh for the days consumption. Freshly made cheese often came from shepherds in transit between summer and winter pastures. On cold winter mornings Tony's grandmother would prepare Zabaglione for his breakfast to ensure that he went to school with a warm stomach. Sassi's palate for these flavours is innate and enduring.
Not surprisingly, he opened his first restaurant in Melbourne in 1970 because he wanted to share these great flavours with Australians – whose view of Italian food was still very limited and naïve. He persisted with no menu and the addition of rucola and raddichio from his parents garden to the iceberg salad, but it wasn't until his third restaurant in the 80's that people stopped putting it aside. Now, of course, very Australian household buys it from the supermarket in their salad mix, albeit not quite as tasty as that which came from the smuggled seeds of immigrants.
In 1988, with his wife Di, he was captured by a beautiful site in the tropical North Queensland town of Port Douglas. Island Point, as it was known, looked out to the Coral Sea and rainforest, surrounded by tropical gardens and featuring the wonderful tropical punka fans. It was here that Sassi began translating his rich Italian heritage into a 'tropical cucina' – retaining all those treasured taste memories and the integrity of Italian flavours, but with a lighter flavour balance for the climate. The local waters feature abundant seafood – especially the reef fish, mudcrab, prawns and bugs – and there is a plentiful supply of exotic seasonal fruit. The nearby Atherton Tablelands grows fresh vegetables and now supplies wonderful buffalo milk cheese.
Tony Sassi's latest cucina is in the very beautiful and exclusive Pepper's Balé Resort, set in lush tropical landscaped gardens, elegantly positioned poolside under swaying palm trees. sassi at balé personifies relaxed North Queensalnd dining at its best – casual elegance with good food, fine wine and attentive service to match.