TOP Slovenia Interview: Simone B. Michielen

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Simone B. Michielen is our new columnist, who recently joined The Slovenia team and we couldn’t be happier to have her on board. 

For those of you who don’t know who Simone B. Michielen is, let us introduce her to you – our readers. Simone B. Michielen moved to the sunny side of the Alps – Slovenia in 2004 from Spain, where she lived for 5 years. The decision to move to Slovenia is swift and she doesn’t regret moving to Slovenia one bit. After 16 years of living in Slovenia and not at all a love at first sight, she now can’t imagine herself living anywhere else. She was able to share her love for the country as a guide for special groups and incentives over the past years.

Simone B. Michielen loves to cook for everybody. Entering the cooking competition of Masterchef Slovenia in 2018 was the cherry on her cake, as she was able to show Slovenia her cooking skills, and her love for the country she feels so much at home.  She is an interesting lady to say the least, her passion and love for both cooking and Slovenia is truly inspiring as you will see in the interview below. 

Simone, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

Of course! I see myself as a passionate European who already at a young age had a big wish to travel within Europe. My parents were able to take me around and we spent a lot of time in Austria during the winters when I was young. I was married several times.

What was the tipping point in 2004 that led you to move to Slovenia?

Me and my husband lived in Spain and we wanted to live closer to the Alps. Mainly because we love them, but also because we had the impression it would be better for my health. I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1998 and the warmth in Spain didn’t do me good. I must say that we were a bit inspired by movies where people went to the Alps to recover. Slovenia was about to enter the EU and for that reason in the news. We were never here before, and didn’t even know where exactly it was. We only recognised Triglav as an Alpine mountain…

You are originally from the Netherlands. Could you tell us what are the biggest differences between Slovenia and the Netherlands?

I left the NL in 1999, so over 20 years ago. I always rather look for similarities than differences, because the first connects us, the second divides us. We are both small countries, where knowledge of foreign languages and the will to connect with others is necessary to survive. Sometimes it is hard to jump over our own shadows, but in the end we are able to do so, both Dutch and Slovene.

Now this question is going to be a hard one. Which country’s cuisine do you prefer?

Hahahaha, that is a question I am asked so many times! I really don’t know. In the end everything we eat is some kind of a fusion dish. Our own experiences, tastes we know from our youth, memories, local ingredients combined with what we bring from our journeys. Inspiration from other chefs and friends. Since people travel I don’t think there is a kitchen that has not changed over the years, and I am so happy about that! We should treasure our heritage, but not be afraid to combine it with new influences, because the result might be even better and for sure a surprise!

Which is your favorite Slovenian traditional dish? 

This is the hardest question, to be honest. According to my Slovenian roots in our lovely Savinja valley I would like to say Zgornje Savinjske zelodec. Very original and tasty and not at all easy to make. 

One of your biggest passions in life is cooking. Where does the inspiration for cooking come from?

As a young girl, I was already keen on what happened in the kitchen, also when I visited restaurants with my parents. As a teenager, I took cooking classes in the evening and during school holidays I worked in the diet kitchen of a big hospital, where I learned a lot. I wanted to become a chef, but my parents were not happy about that. So I took a different career path, studied international management and worked till 1998 as a senior business consultant in human resources. But cooking always stayed in my life and in Spain I started a small service as a chef by request.

You are having some friends over for lunch. What are you making for them?

I always cook at least 3 courses, but probably 5 if I know they are coming. What exactly I will cook depends on my mood, availability of ingredients, what they like or don’t like. But for sure it will be a combination of different kitchens, with almost always some connection with Asian freshness.

We meet you in 2018 on Masterchef Slovenija (and we rooted for you). Could you tell us why you decided to enter the competition and what was it like? Which challenge was the hardest one during the competition?

I knew Masterchef only from watching Masterchef Australia, so when I saw the call for candidates in Slovenia I just started to fill out the form to see if I was able to do that in Slovene. Suddenly the application was gone and I forgot about it, being quite surprised when I received an e-mail to come for an audition…

The experience was a lot of fun. It was very nice to meet new people, get connected and be a part of this adventure. And of course cook as good as you can! The hardest part for me was where we had to bother others with handicaps or even try to make their challenge impossible. I think it is much nicer for viewers to see what people are capable of, than to see how mean somebody can be to another person. Some of the people who watched Masterchef might remember that I wasn’t amused when it happened, to say the least.

What did you learn or take from the Masterchef competition?

New friends! Better Slovene! And I became aware of some sensitivities when it comes to traditional meals, food and recipes. As for cooking skills I don’t think I learned a lot of new stuff, but just making something with limited ingredients and trust on your experience is something I do more now than before. 

Which was or still is your favorite judge on Masterchef? Is it Gordon Ramsey or do the Slovenian judges hold the first place?

I like the Australian judges a lot, as they are always positive in their criticism. I have a terrible week spot for the Jezersek brothers (yes, all of them), but all three judges are nice guys who know a lot about food and cooking. It was very nice to be able to get to know them.

Besides loving to cook, you also love to travel. Which is your favorite country to travel to?

I once explained that Slovenia is my true love (the one you want to stay with), Spain is my lover (not always there, but great when you are able to see each other) and the Netherlands is my ex (still friends, but not necessary to see each other a lot). So you can make your own conclusion… 

You are also a tourist guide. Which are some of your favorite spots in Slovenia, for example, where would you take us to this weekend? 

I would take you to our valley, the Upper Savinja Valley. It has all that makes Slovenia so special, but is still a little bit off the beaten track. But in the end, is there any place in Slovenia that is not worth a trip or even a full holiday? I really can’t get enough of it.

For the end, what is your favorite motto in life?

Show empathy and throw kindness like confetti. Look for similarities, not differences. Together things become so much easier, for all of us. And after my husband died I realised that although nothing would be the same, life can be good again.