Ana Roš is one of the most famous chefs in the world today, voted The World’s Best Female Chef in 2017 and putting Slovenia on the map as an international culinary destination. However, when she first took over the kitchen at Hiša Franko in 2002, her only goal was survival. “I had no ambitious goals such as world awards and different lists or stars with which restaurants are measured with today,” she says. “We were struggling, and the wish was to finally finish the year not in red numbers but in green numbers.”
After many years of refining her cooking and creating a modern interpretation of traditional Slovenian cuisine, her appearance on the second season of Netflix’s Chef’s Table in 2016 launched her and her humble restaurant in the Soča Valley to an unimaginable level of superstardom. She sat down recently to discuss ingredients, family, and the future.
Some international foodies will fly or drive to Slovenia just to eat at Hiša Franko. But when diners have a little extra time to explore, what do you recommend?
I think Slovenia is the best in simple dining. Research Slovenia by travelling with no big expectations, but exploring the ingredients like game, honey, and dairy products. Going to farmhouses and eating with farmers is the best possible way to experience it.
If you had to pick one favourite Slovenian ingredient, what would it be?
There are plenty of ingredients that I really love about Slovenia, but two really stand out as particularly interesting: our seasonal dairy products, and also bee products. I’m talking about the amazing honeys, bee pollen, and beeswax.
I was in Switzerland lately and talking to a beekeeper. I tried his honey and found it really good, and he finally asked me where I was coming from. When I said that I am Slovenian, he said, “My god, I cannot make you taste my honeys anymore. You guys are really leading in the industry in doing this.”
Sometimes we are not aware enough of the amazing products that we have at our fingertips.
Your daughter Eva Klara is already helping out in the restaurant. Do you think she will follow in your footsteps?
Well, Eva Klara is not really interested so much in the kitchen. She is interested—and this is what I’m really, really strongly happy about—she’s interested in the service and in wines. I believe that she’s a real daughter of the house, and you can feel her big love towards hospitality. This is something that I believe young people today are not having so much. Usually the television shows are all about the kitchen, but not about hospitality in general. I believe that Eva Klara, with her enthusiasm, can be a leader for the next young generation.
Your role as a chef and culinary ambassador necessitates a lot of travel—is it hard to balance that with time at home?
It is very difficult to balance the travelling with my time at home. In one way, we are coming from such a faraway country and such a faraway land that we actually need to network and speak about our work constantly. But on the other side, there is responsibility towards the restaurant and responsibility towards the team and the guests that we are here as much as possible. This is always a kind of guilty situation, because whatever you do is a bit wrong. But we try to balance it, and I think I’m having an amazing team on board at this moment where we can find the best solutions.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to share?
There is a book coming out in the beginning of 2020 named Sun and Rain published by Phaidon. This book had a very hard life. Somehow the birth of it really requested a lot of energy, a lot of dedication and patience, because I was not really convinced about the content. I don’t like shortcuts and I really need to be strongly believing that what I’m doing is amazing. So we needed time to define the contents, to define the way the book should look.
I wrote half of the book myself in English, without ghost writers. The photos and all text are from myself, Suzan Gabrijan, and Kaja Sajovic. We are all three Slovenians. When we finally saw the finished book, it was just so emotional, so personal, and so beautiful. Phaidon did a lot of dedicated work for us, which I found exceptional for such a big publishing company. They waited with patience for us to be sure what we were doing.
This interview has been edited and condensed.