The Best Chef Pristine Award
Slovenia has been put on the culinary map in recent years with the help of amazing chefs.Slovenia is fast becoming one of Europe’s prime gastronomic destinations, in part, thanks to chef Ana Roš, who is creatively reimagining the traditional dishes of the Soča Valley.
When Ana Roš was a girl in a small town called Nova Gorica in the former Yugoslavia, she never dreamed she would one day become one of the world’s most famous chefs. Her mother recalled that she couldn’t even fry an egg.
It was skiing rather than a skillet that was uppermost in the young Roš’s mind, and at the age of 7 she had already joined the national skiing team, where she remained for another 10 years. Little did she know that she would one day be crowned the world’s best female chef.
Her restaurant, Hiša Franko, in Kobarid, Slovenia, has become a major food destination in a country where the Michelin Guide has yet to tread. Set in the foothills of the lush Soča Valley, it aims to reflect the natural environment of the region, from the dramatic mountains to the emerald River Soca, down to the Adriatic Sea.
Though Roš’s approach is highly technical, the emphasis is always on allowing the essence of local ingredients to shine through. For Roš, the beauty of rawness is paramount, and the element of surprise is a key facet of her cooking – contrasting temperatures, textures and flavours are a frequent motif.
She does not believe in signature dishes, since few dishes linger on her menu for long. Hiša Franko is a restaurant in perpetual forward motion, though some principles remain. All her ingredients are sourced from local foragers, producers and artisans that go back generations. It is this sense of immediacy that informs her cooking, and which keeps everything at Hiša Franko vitally fresh.
As a young woman, Roš trained to be a diplomat. She only became involved in food because the man she married, Valter Kramar, was the owner of Hiša Franko. She began helping out in the kitchen, and soon after that she was hooked. Her cooking gradually won notoriety, and in 2011 the restaurant was featured in a documentary on the French-German TV channel Arte.
In 2012 Roš became the first female chef to join up with René Redzepi, Alex Atala and Daniel Patterson for the Cook It Raw event. And in 2016, Hiša Frako was featured on the Netflix series Chef’s Table, which brought Roš to the attention of the American market. Suddenly everything changed.
She herself defined her cooking: “Today my approach to cooking is technical, almost scientific, but still allows the ingredients to develop or preserve the (strong) original taste”.
In Milan she joined forces with Massimo Bottura at the Reffetorio Ambrosiano soup kitchen as part of his Food For Soul initiative. And in India she has cooked with the Creative Services Support Group, which supports and promotes education and employment for disadvantaged girls and young women. She remains an inspiration for female chefs everywhere.
Staro selo 1,
5222 Kobarid, Slovenia
Ana Roš is the amazing chef of Hiša Franko, who together with her husband Valter Kramar, who manages the front of house and is the restaurant’s sommelier, has turned a traditional country inn that Valter’s parents used to run into a world class fine dining restaurant and guesthouse that is helping put Slovenia on the world culinary map.
Slovenian and Italian foodies have known about the exceptional quality of Hiša Franko for years though in 2016/2017 word of Ana’s talents spread like wild fire – first she appeared on Netflix’s Chef’s Table series, then she was named the world’s best female chef in 2017, then shortly after Hiša Franko was awarded the title of Best Restaurant in Slovenia in the inaugural The Slovenia Restaurant Awards and as if that wasn’t enough Ana and Valter’s contemporary country inn was also ranked among the world’s best 100 restaurants.
In 2019 Hiša Franko is No. 38 of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
So what does Slovenia’s culinary superstar have to say about all this and her path to success….
You’ve just got a ton of awards. Was this all part of your grand plan?
There had never been a plan for awards. We simply try to focus on our work and on our quality. If we were working in another country with more international recognition, everything would be much faster… But when things happen slowly, the base is more solid, with less risk to fail.
Why did it take this long for word to get out about Hiša Franko? Have you become a better chef? And/or was Slovenia not yet on the world culinary map?
Slovenia is not yet on a culinary map, we need a bigger community of chefs who stand up together, work together and especially a community that shares.
How do you keep your feet on the ground? What do you do when you have time off?
Every morning I wake up between 6 and 7am and after having had breakfast with my children I go running, hiking or do yoga. It keeps me fresh, stress free and in a good psychophysical form.
When did you fall in love with cooking…before or after you stepped into the kitchen at Hiša Franko?
It was not love on the first sight. I started cooking because I needed to survive. But then I found it an immense challenge, so many unwritten papers.
How hard was it becoming a chef without training? Do you now wish you’d gone to culinary school instead of studying international relations?
Never. I am different because I never did schools. My kitchen is different because I never did schools. Passion, motivation and talent are sometimes a lot more. And dedication.
Were you always so creative or is this something you’ve embraced since becoming a Chef?
I consider myself a very creative personality. I was a dancer with an immense talent. And I always enjoyed writing. As a student I was earning enough money for my life as an occasional journalist. I had my dance group. I found my personal way how to teach kids how to ski. This is how I am.
What’s your favourite ingredient/dish for each season?
Fresh and local. My favourite taste changes every day.
You’re now an ambassador for Slovenian gastronomy. What do you tell foreigners about Slovenia, its food and wine?
Slovenia is a tiny country with fantastic geographical diversity and strong cultural and food traditions all around us/Italy, Austria, Balkans, hungarian lowlands. All this strong identities influence us a lot.
You’re just minutes from the Italian border…how do the two country’s cuisines and food cultures differ?
Historically and geographically we naturally are a part of the Friuli hills and lowlands. Our cooking, our language is more similar to the eastern part of Italy then to Slovenia. There is a great trattoria in Cerniglons, close to Udine which stil cooks the way Valter’s grandmother has been cooking at home. Tripes with spices, hard polenta…
Hiša Franko is not just your restaurant but your family’s home…do your kids get tired of squid, sweetbreads and aged Tolminc for dinner? Or is your family dinner a more relaxed affair?
We are a family of 30 people from all around the world in this moment. My children are a part of this community, they share meals with us. It is a great international food because every day there is someone else in charge of the meals. Emilly likes cooking asian, Vladka is more into polenta and tradition, Črt brings out mediterranean, Alex great Italian, I would cook just vegetables. This makes our food life very diverse and funny.
Interview conducted by James Cosier; Edited by Yuri Barron
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