Ana Roš of Hiša Franko – Promoting Slovenia while inspiring the world through her cooking
The small town of Kobarid in the Soča Valley of Slovenia is remote and for many, requires planes, trains, and automobiles to arrive there, despite being a 90-minute drive from Venice Italy. The restaurant Hiša Franko, which sits on the 2019 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list at #38, with its chef/owner Ana Roš having been named the World’s Best Female Chef in 2017, is a phenomenon in many ways. Ana is a self-taught cook, she speaks 5 languages and ditched becoming a diplomat for the sake of love. With her partner Valter Kramar, the two run Hisa Franko’s restaurant and inn, with him as sommelier. They are incredibly proud of their country and keep products and menu almost exclusively Slovenian. With their children they travel extensively and take in all the world has to offer. Aspire Lifestyles Director of Dining Ann Hill had the incredible opportunity to ask Chef Ana a few questions to learn more about this incredible woman.
Aspire Lifestyles: What do you want the world to know about the cuisine of your country and the cuisine of Hiša Franko?
Chef Ana Roš: I think that Slovenia is to products one of the greenest destinations in the world and that Soča Valley is the greenest part of Slovenia. I would say that my dream is for the world to realize that all new trends may go away but Slovenia will probably remain green because food-wise, we are a green source already.
AL: What progress have you seen during the span of your career so far? What would you like to see happen, and how are you becoming part of that evolution?
AR: Well, Hisa Franko and I are both in constant evolution, constant change and constant search for more and better. I honestly don’t want to think that we arrived at our destination because it’s the day that would close the restaurant. I like the creative search atmosphere that we collaborate as a team.
AL: What is the most important value in cooking that you teach and stress to your kitchen team?
AR: I guess to have respect for ingredients with the understanding that if you have an ingredient ready in your hand, it never remains the same. Respect its flavor and always adapt to its changes.
AL: Do you feel that the talent of your team is most on display in the spring and summer when you have a bounty of products to work with, or in the winter when ingredients are more-sparse, and you need to rely on what has been preserved, pickled, dried, or fermented?
AR: Well of course I like spring and autumn the most. Spring gives more bitter products and autumn’s products fall between extremely sweet and earthy. It gives you a choice, because you can still pickle, ferment, and preserve but you still have incredible products in your hands which you can do whatever you want.
AL: Sustainability is such a focus these days. You’ve said that Hiša Franko is “kilometer zero”, meaning that most of your products are sourced hyper-locally. That being said, are you ever tempted to grow products from seeds collected elsewhere with a similar climate?
AR: I think I am very obsessed with local products, maybe because I think it’s the rightest possible thing that a person who travels so many kilometers comes and to our products and our creations understands the environment where he came. But I have a storage of super interesting spices little additives to my food which I collect on my travels around the world. If there is a contamination of this completely zero kilometer approach it is in spices that I collect through my traveling and I excuse them because we are on a spice route between Vienna and Venice where spices can always be known, used and traded.
AL: What has been your most memorable food destination (city/country), and why?
AR: It sounds so cliché but I really like colorful and spicy food, which is why I would say Thailand and Mexico. Not so much because of the flavors, that are incredible, but because those flavors in both countries are accessible to everyone. It means even people who eat on the streets or people cooking at home, when you taste their food it’s so, so incredibly tasty.
AL: What has been the most interesting ingredient, technique or dish that you have experienced while traveling that has inspired your cooking?
AR: I think my trip to Vietnam, observing these small women cooking on the streets and the way they approach fish and vegetables. They respect products by undercooking them, preserving original tastes rather than over-adding the tastes with other flavors. That was a shocking experience for me. I think I changed my philosophy about my cooking at that moment.
AL: Which restaurant, hotel, person or place has most impressed your sense of hospitality that you carry to your own restaurant and inn?
AR: You know there are different levels of hospitality. I think there is a hospitality you get in Asia where everyone is so incredibly nice. You understand that we have a practical route culture in us but is that hospitality really genuine? That’s a good question because we don’t Asian character nor the Asian talent for hospitality. We are European; people from the mountains. I honestly think that the hospitality in southern Mediterranean areas, where people are open-hearted but at the same time very honest, so there is never over sweetness, but it’s always done just right. It’s usually there where you feel at home because of the feeling of open doors is honest. I would give an example from Southern Italy. I was invited to the home of a family from Brindisi, in the Puglia region, and I believe those three days with that family honest hospitality. They gathered all their friends and everyone together and didn’t take care of us as much they took care of everyone. That was so, so beautiful. So I would say that we can learn a lot from that. I don’t think that guests expect their host to be overly sweet because you never know if it’s sincere or not.
AL: Which musician or band would you like to cook for in a casual, private setting to chat, eat and maybe hear some of their music?
AR: Well that is such a difficult question since I’m very well-known as someone who doesn’t listen to a lot of music. In my free time, I sit in silence. So I wouldn’t answer that question.
AL: One evening you get to take five chefs (present or past) to dinner at any restaurant in the world. Which chefs do you bring along with you and where do you take them (aside from your own restaurant)? Why those chefs and why that restaurant?
AR: Since I’m inviting the chefs and chefs always talk about food at the table, I would choose Noma. I would choose Noma because it’s a really creative place where they always like taking risks, walking on the edge and not making too many compromises. I think would be an amazing discussion. At the table, I would love to see Rodolfo Guzman, whom I love as a personality. I would love to see Virgilio Martinez and his wife Pia Leon because they are incredible cooks, both of them, and really, really amazing human beings. I would also seat Rene (Redzepi) himself at our table to hear our discussion about his food and would be very curious about his thoughts on our discussion. And I would take my chef from my kitchen, Leonardo Fonseca, because he’s a very silent but very good observer.
AL: How has your placement on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list changed the lives of yourself and your team?
AR: I think we received our lesson from Chef’s Table which came out in 2016 on Netflix. We got used to a lot of attention and a little bit of a feeling of yes, that we are sometimes even rockstars when we are actually chefs. With that I don’t mean that it’s wrong but sometimes it’s a little bit overwhelming, so I think the position of Hiša Franko on World’s 50 Best is still a little bit in the shadow of Chef’s Table, a television show is more known globally. But I think that the position of Hiša Franko on 50 Best is a great gift, especially for the team.