“It’s the freedom that defines you.” The story of the 2017 Best Woman Chef: Ana Roš.
ANA ROS AND HIŠA FRANKO
If you get lost in the Slovenian country roads, following serpentine curves among the evergreen trees, at some point, you can see a typical stone house. Here, precisely that house, in the middle of pure nature, is the restaurant of the best chef woman 2017, according to the guide of the 50 World Best Restaurant. If this middle land until ten years ago was little known, little valued, the last few years see it in the limelight, brought into vogue thanks to its riches, but also and mainly thanks to those who knew how to tell it. One of these people is Ana Roš. Ana was born in 1972 in Šempeter Pri Gorici. She does not attend the cooking school; on the contrary, at the behest of her parents, she studies diplomacy, which pushes her from an early age and invests a lot in her education. They wanted her to “become someone,” thus making her study international relations. The plans changed when she met Valter, her current husband, whose parents had a restaurant: Hiša Franko. The two traveled, discovered the world through food, visited local producers, let themselves be carried away by the smells of street food, realizing one of the most important truths for Ana: the fact that living according to the rules can be very restrictive.
How do you get closer to cooking?
Valter’s father, Franco, opened the restaurant in 1973, but the crucial moment came when he decided to retire because it was evident that Valter would take over Hiša Franko. So I decided to risk everything and start my journey in the world of cooking. At that time, I had the opportunity to work in the diplomatic field in Brussels, but I refused for Valter and our relationship.
In the kitchen, I could make pasta, but that didn’t mean I could cook. I learned everything students usually learn in cooking school just by talking to the people in the business. That’s how it all started! The first few years were hard, but we pushed hard, working, and growing up. Fifteen years later, I took the award for Best Chef Woman, which of course, means that we did things right. Success is neither fast nor priceless.
What inspires you every day?
The freedom to work in an environment – locally and internationally with colleagues – allows me to be creative. I guess I wouldn’t have achieved that if I had worked in an office from 9 a.m to 5 p.m.
Also, having such a surprising terroir allows me to work well. Slovenia is a land that produces extraordinary things, such as the Tolmin Cheese produced at 2000 meters altitude and the marble trout of the Soca river, both unique in our territory. I’m aware of the quality of the products, and this thought always gives me a boost when I need it.
What do you think is the key to your success?
I fight hard to remain a normal woman with her “normal life,” with friends, sipping drinks, and gossiping about men.
Who are your inspiration models?
I have never had a model. I saw a bit of the world, many restaurants, but it was all confusing. The solution came with the children: with 2 of them, born one after the other, I could not travel to the restaurants anymore. And that’s how my journey into my world began.
A word you would use to define the soul of your kitchen?
What message do you want to send your customers when they eat your food?
What’s the dish you feel most about yourself when you cook it, the plate of your heart?
All the dishes are the one of my heart; I think it’s like asking a mother which is the favorite child and of course they’re all equal. My dishes, like my children, are all unique and special in the same way.
When did the leap to success happen? Was it a precise moment or a process?
It was a process. It took 12-13 years of hard work, difficult times both from an economic point of view, and for lack of costumers. There was a need to build a gastronomic and tourist destination to make it happen. It was a prolonged process and sometimes very painful.
Win as best female chef of the 50 Best Restaurants, Netflix dedicates an episode of Chef’s Table. In short, you l become famous worldwide. Has this success changed anything in your personal and professional life?
Surely these are things that I don’t think can’t touch a person. I have changed. Maybe I started to defend more of my privacy and my private life. I also managed to build a professional Ana who tries not to confuse the two worlds: the private life and the professional one, and I think this is crucial to survive.
How much that you make at Hisa Franko is homemade produced, and what instead do you buy from other suppliers?
We produce most of the things at home. Our cuisine comes from local products. It’s a pure km0, but in the kitchen, I connect to the producers around me, so: I buy the cream from the local dairy, the cheese from the hut, and we refine it at home, we take the game from the families of hunters. We have a vegetable garden behind the house, but we also work with people who cultivate them directly. So it is instead a circle of producers who contribute to the success and history of Hisa Franko.
The local, sustainable food topic of small producers who know each other personally has been becoming more and more important for some years now. Which are some of the local producers you work with directly?
For example, Miha Rustja is my forager; Anka Lupušček Miklavič and her husband supply me with cheese; Mlekarna Planika with milk and Urška Bizjak with trout.
An example of a product that you buy from these small producers and how you turn it into a dish?
For example, from Igor Urbančič we take hay and fermented ricotta from Anka Lupušček Miklavič’s mother. From these two products, we make potatoes cooked in hay, served with fermented ricotta, and smoked chocolate.
How many people do you have in your team?
There are 35-40 people, depending on the day.
What is the relationship that must exist in a kitchen between all the members of the team?
There must be a relationship of trust and respect.
How would you define your leadership?
If you were food, what would you be?
Tomato: a bit acidic, a bit sweet
How did your relationship with your husband Valter grow in this career growth? How do you keep your relationship strong?
Our relationship is made up of many compromises: because we are many different. It took years to realize that diversity is what can bring a magnificent result when you maintain respect for each other.
BE A FEMALE CHEF
Men dominate restaurant kitchens. Did you have any problems when you decided to go down this road?
There is a funny but profound story from the Cook It Raw event that explains the situation a bit. In 2012, for the last session of Cook It Raw in Poland, I was invited to be part of this fantastic event as the first female chef ever. Everything went wrong: at first, I missed the plane (including the press conference), a dog bit me (he mistook me for a piece of fresh meat), I was caught in a kayak by journalists, with bottles of vodka floating around me. And finally, while I was cooking the last supper, I was bitten by a bee while I was cutting the beets, which caused a strong allergic reaction that required the intervention of a doctor. Do you want to add anything else? The problems were more significant than the gender ones – so a girl can survive the men’s battlefield – but it all ended with a famous statement from a participating journalist, who says she loves my dancing skills more than the culinary ones.
Is there a difference between a male cook and a female cook?
I don’t think it’s constructive for women’s emancipation in the kitchen if we keep underlining the gender difference too much. The truth is that a woman must show that she is as good and competent in the kitchen as men are because in the end of the day we all are the same in front of costumers.
But there is a difference, and it has nothing to do with taste or techniques. It is the role of a woman as a mother, as a wife, as someone more sensitive and with less muscle. How many times have I cried because my plane left at 8 a.m. and my daughter came to bed sick with a high fever, just because I was going away again? And the homework in the kitchen, the guests babysitting my children. Or, finally, when your partner asks you when was the last time you saw a hairdresser?
Besides, women always tend to create a family feeling.
It still happens that people don’t believe I’m capable of shouting. But when I scream, they understand that I’m capable of it.
Which are the cooks you admire?
I met some fantastic female chefs in the position of chefs or sous-chefs, just like the male colleagues: precise, powerful, and full of knowledge. When my sous-chef Vladka Cencic speaks, everyone is silent. But My love is directed to many of them: Emilly Walden Harris, Shannon Martincic, Lisa Lov (Tigermom), Rosio Sanchez. They are beautiful, sexy, and especially women.
How do you balance being a chef and having a family?
It’s challenging, but what kind of work environment isn’t today? The fact that Hiša Franko is our home helps us, because our children are always here with us, sometimes even with me in the kitchen. The fact that Valter works side by side with me also helps, because we have common visions and we support each other. We are closed for three to four months a year, so in this period, we focus more on our relationships and ourselves. We are also fortunate that our parents live quite close together.
Do you see more female chefs entering the industry?
It’s a slow process. Right now, we need to go beyond the first romantic perception of this: There are no wars or clubs between the two sexes; we all share the same love of cooking.
What does the World Best Female Chef 2017 award mean to you?
It means a lot. I am self-taught, and I come from a small country that not many people know has a great culinary tradition. To get to where I am now, I have made many sacrifices. So, awards like this show that they are on the right track and continue to push me, my family, and the community around us forward. Even though I admit it was a big surprise, I find it a huge responsibility to take this title with me.
Why do you think people should visit Slovenia?
It is an incredible country, very green, quite untouched. Ljubljana, the capital, is rather small and charming, but with a lot of life and soul. It is very pure, clean, and Bio-diversified. Besides, there is a lot of culture, art, music, and gastronomy. As for the food, I would suggest eating in the Gostilna, the Slovenian version of the Italian tavern, where the food can be traditional, sometimes with a surprising touch. I would advise those who come here to visit small organic food producers and wine producers: I think they would be surprised by what they might find.
What is the biggest misconception on the culinary scene in Slovenia?
Placing Slovenia only in Eastern Europe: we belong to Central Europe, but also the East and South. It is one of those countries in the world that has a specific gastronomic identity. It is a small country with two million people that borders on great culinary traditions: Italy in the west, Austria, and German culture in the north, the Balkans in the south.
Where do you like to eat outside Slovenia?
Street food in Bangkok or elsewhere in Asia: it’s an incredibly happy food.
ABOUT THE FUTURE
What is your advice to emerging or aspiring chefs?
Be brave and question what you are doing. Learn to talk to people. Never fall asleep. Travel. There’s a world to discover, and all the (food) perspectives you meet during your journey, even just around the corner, make you think differently and make you a different and better person (and a chef).
In which direction do you continue to develop personally?
In the direction in which, one day, my hands can fully follow my head.
What can we expect from you?
I am an ambitious person. I always find a new goal to achieve. I live in an unknown part of the world and there is so much to do in terms of gastronomy.
Hiša Franko is trying to develop a unique way of how the country restaurant should be. In our country, there is no Michelin guide, which gives us a slightly higher freedom of expression. The results are fascinating, but work is still in progress.
I am continually looking for new ways to integrate the Slovenian Terroir into my kitchen: that’s how I communicate with the world.
Food and climate change: do you think there is a correlation and if so, why?
Agriculture is undoubtedly one of the biggest factors influencing climate change. It is one of the biggest sources of pollution, especially when it comes to extensive agriculture, but I don’t think the answer lies in becoming vegan or vegetarian or in the genetic changes of food, in order to survive. Rather, I believe – and this is just one of my beliefs – that we should look micro-regionally at the problem and apply regional solutions that respect traditions. Because in the traditions of 100 years ago certainly did not affect the climate. The climate is changing today, because with the globalization of the world we all want everything at all times: I’m talking about the cherry in winter and the cabbage in summer.
Hisa Franko is a country house opened in 1973 and taken over by Ana and Valter in 2000. Today it is a starred restaurant, which brings with it stories and traditions of its territory: Slovenia. For more information about Hisa Franko, the menu and philosophy of Ana Ros…https://www.hisafranko.com/en/
For young people with the ambition to work in a restaurant with a Michelin star and the opportunity to work with one of the best female chefs in the world you can send your CV to: firstname.lastname@example.org