How Ana Ros, One of the World’s Best Chefs, Put Slovenia on the Culinary Map

Transforming Spaces is a series about women driving change in sometimes unexpected places.

When Ana Roth became head chef at Hisa Franco, a restaurant in rural Slovenia, she had no professional cooking or restaurant experience. She never attended culinary school and never dreamed of becoming a chef when she was little. During her college days, she said she “run away” because her friends didn’t like her food when it was her turn to jointly cook a meal.

Twenty years later, she’s now one of the world’s most celebrated chefs, winning international awards for her restaurant and making the small Central European nation of Slovenia a culinary hotspot. .

The world of fine dining is still a boys’ club. About 6% of Michelin-starred restaurants are run by women, according to a 2022 analysis. chef’s pencilan online publication about the world of cooking and restaurants.

She was 30 and pregnant when she took the job in 2002. Her then-partner, Walter Kramer, inherited a humble family-run eatery from her parents two years ago. “I went into the little kitchen, closed the door, leaned against the wall and thought, ‘Anna, what have you just done?'” Ross said.

Hisa Franco currently employs 45 people, two Michelin stars and spot as one of them 50 best restaurants in the world It is on the annual list of British media company William Reed. The company awarded Ross the best female chef award in 2017.

“Anna blends an international perspective with ultra-local sourcing,” William Drew, content director for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, wrote in an email. Because Ross is self-taught, she added, “her dishes don’t have to follow predetermined rules, but are designed to make the most of the ingredients and specialties of her home country.”

Hisa Franco is located in a remote mountainous area named after the Soca Valley. Emerald green river flowing through it. Slovenia is close to the borders of Italy and Austria and is known for its lush greenery and clean water.

On his first day on the job, Ross dreamed of turning Hisa Franco into a vacation destination. She wanted people from her neighboring cities to visit for local ingredients and rich flavors.

At the time, she didn’t have the skills to bring her vision to life, but she had a natural instinct. “I see taste the way a painter sees color,” she said. Today, Ross is known for applying world-class techniques to local ingredients such as trout from the Soca River, cellar-aged cheese and porcini from nearby forests. She doesn’t make her signature dish. Everything is seasonal.

Last year she opened pekaluna anaa bakery in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, opened a pop-up bistro in the city in February. Anna of Slon. The bistro’s first permanent location will open in Ljubljana this fall.

Slovenian Prime Minister Robert Golob has known Ross since 2012 and considers himself a fan. “Hisa Franco is our country’s ambassador for gastronomic destinations,” he wrote in an email.

But during her career, Ms. Ross said her gender exposed her to even more scrutiny. She said industry insiders often refer to her as her “marketing story”, assuming she doesn’t have the talent to justify her success. When she visited her restaurant, Multi-course tasting menu It costs 255 euros ($280), but my colleagues were sometimes surprised by the quality of the food. “Why are you surprised?” she said. “Of course they think Hisa Franco is where he is and I am where I am because I am also a woman.”

Ross took a detour to the kitchen. In the 1980s Hisa, who grew up in Tolmin, a short drive from Franco, was a competitive skier for the Yugoslav national youth team from the age of 10 until she was 17. She used to be a dancer as well and she was a diligent student. After her injury, she decided to give up her sports career and study International Relations at the University of Trieste, Italy, to become a diplomat. She speaks her 7 languages ​​including Italian, English and French.

“How do you go from being a non-cook to someone who defines a country’s cuisine?” asked Brian McGuinn, Executive Producer of “Chef’s Table.” Netflix series Each episode explores the life and work of one chef from around the world. The show featured Ross in its second season in 2016. “This is a testament to how strong and dedicated she is, how opinionated she is, how imaginative she is, and how she can blaze a trail no one could have imagined. You can do it.” I can do it. “

McGuinn described Ross’ style as “avant-garde.” Consider some dishes on the 2022 menu. Carrot kebab with grapefruit. Barley and pork soup and rose water. Beef tongue and seaweed crystals.

To educate himself, Ross spent his first few years on the job researching ingredients and cooking techniques, attending food conferences, and experimenting with recipe development. “She was cooking from morning till night, and at night she was reading and figuring out what was wrong,” she said. She and Kramer traveled to restaurants around the world for inspiration.

Over the years, she helped popularize Slovenian cuisine. She has been invited to conferences and events alongside her prominent colleagues, including Chef Rene Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen and Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin in New York. But when Netflix invited her to her ‘Chef’s Her Table’, she had few guests visiting during the weekdays and winter months, and outside of Slovenia Hisa Her Franco was still relatively unknown. .

The episode then premiered. “The reservation system is broken,” Ross said. “In fact, it wrecked our lives. We weren’t ready.” Within days, Hisa Franco had won the contract of the year.

She continued her labor-intensive job at the restaurant, “I was still peeling potatoes and making bread,” she said. She responded to her requests for interviews during that time and she was publicly recognized on the streets of Melbourne, San Francisco and New York. She was overwhelmed by her sudden influx of regular customers and her newfound fame. She and Mr. Cramer separated at the end of 2017 (they still run the restaurant together; Mr. Ross married Urban Stojan, an energy company project manager, on New Year’s Eve 2022).

“I fell,” she said. “I had to completely reset the way I worked.” She hired more staff (and started yoga), and by the fall of 2018, she had her life back on track. “Now I can have an employee bake bread in a bakery, I can cook at home, I can be on TV,” she said. she said. “I am able to live a normal daily life without too much trouble.”

Ross lives in the Soca Valley, where seasonal tourists drive the local restaurant business. Before appearing on Chef’s Table, she said, guests tended to expect dishes like pizza, schnitzel and spaghetti with clams. “Instead, we had trout coffee pasta,” Ross said. When she first started experimenting with her quirky dishes, she said many guests left as soon as they saw the menu. But in the end, an unexpected combination won her praise.

“She came in saying, ‘I had a dream last night. Let’s do this and this,'” said Pekarna, a former head baker at Ross’s bakery branch, Pecalna Anna.・Natasha Zurik, who worked at Ana for three years, said: Hisa Franco until 2022. “She feels her cooking on a certain energetic level.”

Today, nearly all of the ingredients used in the kitchen are sourced from within 50 kilograms, and Hisa Franco’s supplier chain includes dozens of shepherds, gatherers, fishermen and a duo growing New Zealand spinach. Ross said there is. , Mexican tarragon and more from a biodynamic farm on the top of a mountain.

This network of restaurant employees and local producers faced major challenges during the initial pandemic lockdown in March 2020. Farmers, struggling to sell their produce as restaurants and cafes closed, called Ross. “We have thousands of lambs that we can’t sell and tens of thousands of liters of milk that go to waste,” Ross recalled them talking.

Hisa Franco was closed and staff were unable to leave the country due to lockdown restrictions. The restaurant team used farm produce to produce packaged food and sold it in supermarkets. “We’ve come up with creative recipes such as ricotta gnocchi with roasted poppy seeds and tarragon,” Ross said. Her team then scaled up the recipe until it “tastes like grandma made 10 but 10,000.”

Ross found a partner at the Slovenian supermarket chain Tus, and by October 2020 the first products will be on store shelves. this line It now includes dozens of items, including apple strudel sorbet, steak tartare, candied cherry tomatoes in oil and noodles with juniper berries.

Reflecting on his career, Ross recalled a meal he cooked in northern Poland in 2012 for Cook It Law, an invitation-only event where chefs learned about the culinary traditions and techniques of specific regions of the world. . Her associates included Mr. Redzepi and Mr. Albert Adria, a famous Barcelona restaurateur and brother of Ferran Adria. (The brothers are known for El Bulli, now closed.)

The event “everything went wrong,” Ross said. She missed her flight and arrived late. When the group went out to canoe, her boat capsized. I needed stitches after my finger was bitten by a dog. While preparing her last meal, she was stung by a bee and had an allergic reaction. “People were like, ‘Look at Bridget Jones,'” she says. “‘Everything is going wrong. That girl shouldn’t be here.'”

Finally she wiped out the guests and other chefs. her meal Beets, pine smoked apples and fish foam. She said the moment showed how the pressure to perform can affect every interaction a woman in this industry can have, and how one moment can make or break a reputation. “We haven’t been given enough chances,” she said.

But she doesn’t mind the assumptions she makes about herself, she said. “It’s a real pain to stay true to yourself at times, but it pays off,” she says, adding, “I always think there are better ways to cook or better flavor combinations, but in the end. This is the only fulfillment. Everything else comes and goes.”

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