This great chef of a small restaurant in Slovenia began cooking when she was pregnant, guided by intuition and her father-in-law’s recipes
This woman, who was voted ‘best chef’ last year, and who stars in international food shows, began cooking at the age of thirty in a restaurant ‘in the middle of nowhere’ which belonged to the family. ‘I started out late, and pregnant,’ recalls Ana Roš, deciding to take over the kitchen at Hiša Franko, in the heart of Slovenia, after listening to a voice in her head: bring local recipes to traditional Slovenian food, and experiment with local produce. ‘I realized that we had to take control of the kitchen. We needed a stable team but, in particular, we had to have a vision of what we were going to do. I told myself that I could take over the cooking, and I began from scratch. I learned how to make traditional food, and together, my husband and I, began knocking on the doors of suppliers in the region, people with small farms, to convince them to share their harvests with us. We didn’t want a static cuisine either. It took me a really long to time to get the concept off the ground, but the aspiration was always there. Step by step, although we didn’t always achieve our goal, we learned how to do things.’
The way each dish was executed became a philosophy which, year on year, has spread the fame of the restaurant, located on the border with Italy, a little farther afield. ‘My cuisine’s main characteristic is its proximity with the place where it is; the land it sits on, and the way each dish interacts with the environment, with its people, its farmers, its shepherds,’ recalls Roš who will give a talk at Madrid Fusión 2019, called A Dinner Table in the Country. ‘My aim is for the public to understand the authentic expression of my cuisine. For example, when someone first enters our establishments or our homes, they see cheeses and always ask why they are different colours. The reason is because cows in the mountains eat flowers and this makes each one’s milk unique. So, when it’s made into cheese, the colours and flavours are different. It’s Nature that has entered my cuisine.’ A similar thing happens with other local produce in the alpine valley of Soca, such as the beans, goat’s intestines, mushrooms, herbs, asparagus, fish, and berries. Fragrances from the sea and the woods.
Self-taught, succumbing to trial and error while trying out her father-in-law’s recipes, she has built a culinary identity that includes this age-old knowledge which has earned her international recognition. ‘I tend to use the platforms that awards offer me to talk about the gastronomy of my country, and how I made myself into a professional cook. A cook who is also a mother, wife, and home-maker all at the same time. When you cook, when you are with your team, when you are with your family. Everyone misses you, and you are always in the wrong place!’ says Roš cheerfully. ‘I’ve learned how to multi-task all day long, though I can never devote much time to myself because there are always tons of things to do.’
Roš had a great advantage because she has a certain kind of baggage that enabled her to put into perspective how they would balance the local with the international, above all when it came to pairing food and wine: she had travelled to many places around the world before running her own kitchen. All that can be summarized in a single sentence: ‘Only if you are familiar with local produce and traditions can your cuisine evolve.’ Another advantage she has, although it might not seem so at first glance, was the continuous presence of her children – only a few months apart in age – in those first years of gastronomic invention. ‘They slept, ate and studied in the kitchen…I did the best I could and so, needless to say, my children have influenced my work both physically and psychologically. My daughter’s understanding of cooking is very similar to mine, but my son hates it. In any case, when I cook, I try to free myself, let my dreams loose, following what my head tells me and sometimes what my heart tells me. But cooking at home and doing it in the restaurant are two completely different things.’