Ana Ros wasn’t destined to become a chef. She did so by accident, taking over her husband’s family’s restaurant, Hisa Franko, when her father-in-law retired.
She met Valter when he was working as a waiter in his parents’ restaurant and the two began dating. When it came for them to inherit Hisa Franko, Ana had been offered a job in Brussels as a diplomat. She turned it down to stay with Valtee in the Sca Valley – and her own father stopped talking to her.
“When we have a particularly difficult day and things aren’t running smoothly, I often think it would be easier to be in Africa,” says Ros, who now lives above the homely, family-style restaurant with Valter and their two children. “As a child, I had visions of being the ambassador in Tanzania, sipping my cocktails by the swimming pool. So when it’s really hard, I sometimes think that would be the easier option.”
She may not be representing her country as a diplomat but Ros has become something of an ambassador for Slovenian cuisine, particularly since her appearance on Netflix’s chefs table series. While guests at the restaurant before the show’s airing were mostly European, now they come from everywhere, sometimes flying for 20 hours from Australia or New Zealand just “to see the magic. And you don’t know if you have that magic – it’s a big responsibility. But we never thought this kind of very quick change could happen in a country like Slovenia.”
Until slovenia gained independence in 1991, there was little in the way of creative cooking, according to Ros. “We woke up after a long system of socialism and communism where everything was equal. There was no place for being creative in the kitchen because no one had any interest in eating anything different.
Her beginnings at Hisa Franko were a case of trial and error – she and Valter, the sommelier, lost most of the restaurant’s existing guests and struggled financially. Ros had never trained as a chef and lacked the basic skills learned in culinary school, so she taught herself by travelling and eating at other restaurants, including La Subidia. Located on the Italian side of the border, it’s the only Slovenian restaurant in the world to have earned a Michelin star – because the Michelin guide doesn’t cover Slovenia. Almost 20 years later, she has earned a highly respected reputation for the restaurant by reviving locally grown produce and incorporating it into dishes such as hops ravioli with goat kid brain. Foodies are travelling from far and wide to experience her five- and nine-course tasting menus.
“People still see Slovenia as a little province of theAustro-Hungarian Empire and sometimes we had people come to the restaurant thinking, ‘Who said Slovenia could have good food?’”, she says. “After Netflix, this changed completely because people knew the food was going to be good. They were curious, and that gave me the freedom to create. The more creative I was, the happier the guests were.”
Ana Roš will receive her World’s Best Female Chef Award at the fifteenth annual World’s 50 Best Restaurantsceremony in Melbourne, Australia, onWednesday 5th April
#FACTS The Old Vine in Maribor, Slovenia is at least 400 years old and it is believed to be the oldest vine in the world.